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Tis the season: Treating Buck Moth Caterpillar Stings

Tis the season: Treating Buck Moth Caterpillar Stings

Ahhh, springtime in NOLA. That means festivals, flowers, food, fun, and… spiky stinging caterpillars?  

That’s right: this time of year is prime time for the pesky buck moth caterpillar.  

These creepy-crawlies are black in color, occasionally sport white spots, and are covered from head-to-tail in fuzzy stinging spines. Those prickly spines are connected to venom glands, which is how they cause nasty rashes, stinging pain, severe itching, and swelling when they come into contact with skin.  

You may come across these little troublemakers anywhere outdoors—but they especially love to hang out on the beloved oaks that line our city streets and parks. Most stings occur when the caterpillars fall from tree branches onto unsuspecting people walking or hanging out below. Stepping on a caterpillar, or brushing against one or a “cluster” of them (*shudder*) can also result in a sting.   

What to do if you get stung 

Dr. Elder, M.D., a physician in Emergency Care at University Medical Center, has some caterpillar sting treatment advice for kids and adults alike:  

“If one gets onto you or your child, gently and quickly remove it by flicking it off with a stick, pen, or credit card, NOT your bare hand,” says Dr. Elder. “The hairs or spines are what stick into your skin and contain a toxin that causes the sting, burn, irritation, pain, swelling, and possible allergic reaction.”  

You should also try to remove any visible spines the caterpillar left behind. According to Dr. Elder, removing the spines can decrease symptom duration. You can try using forceps or tweezers to pluck out the spines, or you can strip them out with a small piece of tape.   

Don’t worry if you don’t see any spines: any left behind will usually free themselves after a couple of days, says Dr. Elder.  

MORE: Tis the Season: Treating Buck Moth Caterpillar Stings 

Ice and dress the sting, then pop a Benadryl 

Dr. Elder advises applying a cool ice pack to the sting area ASAP. After icing, apply a paste of baking soda and water (just mix a little of both together in a bowl), followed by hydrocortisone cream.  

Woman looking at medication

“I also recommend an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, if this sting is severe. Ibuprofen can also be taken as needed for pain,” says Dr. Elder. “And always seek care from your doctor or pediatrician if you are concerned or the sting appears to be getting infected.”  

Watch out for allergic reactions 

“If you or your child show any signs of an allergic reaction, seek immediate medical attention,” cautions Dr. Elder. 

Signs of an allergic reaction from an insect sting can include severe pain, redness, swelling (in area of sting and beyond), flushing, hives, extreme itching, and—less commonly—anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that can impair breathing and cause a person to go into shock. 

MORE: Understanding Nasal Allergies 

Watch where you walk 

“Avoidance is the best form of treatment,” says Dr. Elder. “If you must go under oak trees this spring, think about wearing a wide-brimmed hat and clothing to cover and protect your skin from them falling onto you from the trees, and wear shoes outside to protect your feet from stepping onto them.” 

And be careful if you are picnicking or relaxing under the oaks. These clingy caterpillars can stick to towels and blankets unbeknownst to happy loungers, only to strike hours later.  

Remember, caterpillars can also sting our pups, so be sure to watch out for Fido’s paws too. For extra-cute protection, you can purchase booties especially designed for dogs to protect their paws while frolicking in the spring grass.  

Little girl playing in the grass with a dog

Don’t panic! 

Buck moth caterpillar stings are uncomfortable, but they aren’t usually a big deal. Just watch yourself, your kids, and your pets, and try to avoid these little buggers as well as you can in order to get the most enjoyment out of this otherwise fun-filled season. 

If you have any questions on how to combat buck moth season, be sure to contact your Primary Care Provider.