A small (h)itch – my adventure with garden mites

A Real Life (TM) post today, because I thought people might be helped by this in the same way that people are still finding my post on how to get rid of your kids’ head lice and keep them away.

So, yeah, I live in Sydney, Australia and I like gardening. And I am of the type who does not wear gloves or shoes when gardening, and as a result Things sometimes Bite Me. Actually, Things Always Bite Me.

I also have a skin that is not particularly compatible with the hairy and pointy nature of many Australian native plants (and guess what–our garden is mostly native–with bandicoot nests, but that aside). Anyway, ticks, leeches and everything that bites and itches usually finds me. The itchies tend to be of two types:

One, a rash orginating from plants. This rash is usually confined to the underside of the forearms, and usually disappears within an hour or so, unless the hairies were caterpillars, in which case there is a blistered trail and much swearing from me.

Alternatively, there are clearly-defined bites, like mosquitoes (lower legs, itch and blister and are then itch-less), sandflies (arms and legs, itch for quite a while each time you have a shower), ticks (under clothes, you find them in the shower, and they only start itching once the critter has been removed–using Isocol and tweezers and just *YANK* really quickly), or March flies (common in February, and you NOTICE and swear when they put their mandibles in you).

So now that you have the quick & dirty on defensive entomology in suburban Sydney, I can continue with my tale.

On Sunday morning, I decided that since the next day was Monday, when the council collects our green wheelie bins, I’d fill up the bin with weeds. Our garden is about 40m long, and slopes over a height of more than a three-storey house. Right down the bottom, below the pool, is a wet/dark jungle that’s always full of undesirables, like privet, lantana, cassia, boston fern and bamboo. I got stuck into the boston ferns, but had to crawl underneath the lillipilly bush to get some of them. And somewhere underneath those bushes, I must have been showered with mites.

Hold the phone. Read this: Itch mites. See that picture of the poor young man? Remember that.

So when I’d filled the bin, came upstairs and poured cold water over my arms as I always do to alleviate the plant-induced itchies. But about an hour later, it was clear to me that something was seriously off. I was growing huge welts in my neck, behind the ears and under my hair, and down my shoulders underneath where I’d worn a singlet top, and under the waist band of my undies. In fact, the waist band of undies thing had been a problem about two weeks earlier, when I was making some noises about possible bird lice (which can happen when there is a nest in your roof with, in our case, a dead bird), but–to be perfectly gross–you can FEEL bird lice crawling around under your clothes, and feel them bite, too, and I hadn’t felt anything, nor had I seen the lice on the ceiling, and I’d had a good look for them.

Ergo: mites. I’d had itch mites before, but this was during field work in a remote area near Rockhampton, and at the time people had warned me about them. So I went to the chemist and got some scabies cream (Lyclear). This mite is not the scabies mite, but the active ingredient of Lyclear is a very broad insecticide. However, it might kill the mites (which, unlike scabies mites, do not burrow in the skin), but does nothing about the itching. And by that time I looked like the poor young fellow in that brochure. The itchiness is insane. I actually got a fever from being so itchy. A visit to the doctor for industrial-grade antihistamine and steroid-based anti-inflammatory is now starting to clear it up, but this is not something that disappears within a few hours or even overnight.

Meanwhile, in case you’ve landed on this page because you have the same problem, I found this helpful. Isocol is your friend. Clean the skin and put Isocol on it. It will sting, but after that, it cools and numbs the skin. Then use tea tree oil to stop you scratching it immediately. It helped me sleep until I could get myself to a doctor. And please do, because the larger bites get infected.

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One comment on “A small (h)itch – my adventure with garden mites

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