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Itching for Relief: How to Treat a Gypsy Moth Rash

If you haven’t heard of the gypsy moth rash, it’s time to familiarize yourself with this warm weather hassle.

In the Northeast, gypsy moths seem to be everywhere. They are destructive pests that not only eat trees and other vegetation but also cause a skin rash.

But are these insects dangerous?

It turns out, not really. They are more of a summertime hassle.

The tiny hairs, called setae, on the caterpillar (or moth) carry histamine, which causes a red, bubbling rash.

The hairs are so delicate that they can travel with the wind and end up in your backyard. If you or your child shows up with an unexpected rash one day, it may be due to a gypsy moth.  

“Most of the time, the gypsy moth rash is completely benign and will go away on its own,” said Dr. Vlad Ratushny, MD, PhD, a dermatologist at Massachusetts Dermatology Associates and MassDerm Hair Transplant Institute in Beverly, Massachusetts. “In rare cases, the allergic reaction can cause more alarming symptoms, in which case call your doctor immediately.”

Some say the rash looks similar to those caused by poison ivy or oak. Symptoms of the gypsy moth rash include mild to moderate stinging or pain accompanied by welts, vesicles (small, fluid-filled sacs), raised red bumps, and patches of red, scaly skin.

If a child gets the setae in their mouth, they may experience shortness of breath. The rash may take up to 12 hours before becoming visible.

Dr. Ratushny said that treatment involves the removal of any visible embedded setae.  Any that can’t be removed usually loosen over the course of the next few days. Over the counter pain relievers such as acetominophen and ibuprofen can also be used.

For more information on gypsy moths and other skin rashes, speak with your health care provider.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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