Processionary caterpillars are here again, fortunately in lesser numbers. Because processionary caterpillars occur in oak trees, they are also called oak processionary caterpillars. There are up to 70,000 stinging hairs on the processionary caterpillars, which can cause skin complaints in humans, among other things.
What are processionary caterpillars?
They are the larva of moths that spend the winter mainly in oak trees. Processionary caterpillars lay their eggs in the treetops and gather in large tangles on an oak tree trunk or a large branch. Because the caterpillars move one behind the other in long rows, it is as if they are walking in a kind of procession. Hence this name. The peak months when the caterpillars are present are May, June and July.
Normally processionary caterpillars come from South and Central Europe. Due to the warming of the climate, they are present as far south as Sweden. The processionary caterpillar’s natural enemy are beetles such as the carrion beetles, large puppet robber, certain wasps, birds such as cuckoo birds, European nightjar.
It is the fire hairs of the caterpillars that cause problems for humans and animals. The fire hairs can cause a nuisance within a radius of 100 meters around the tree of a caterpillar nest. When threatened, the fire hairs are shot by the caterpillar. Are airborne and spread by the wind.
The hairs of 0.2-0.3 mm then penetrate the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. The stinging hairs are elongated in shape and are provided with barbs.
Most symptoms are skin rash, pain, and itching. Red spots, blisters and spots appear within 8 hours. The itching and rash can sometimes be confused with scabies or eczema
But also eye problems, such as itching, pain, redness and swelling.
Airways can also be affected, such as coughing, sneezing, runny nose, itching in the mouth and throat, shortness of breath.
Gastrointestinal complaints such as abdominal pain, vomiting, thick tongue.
If that’s not enough, you can also become allergic to these caterpillars. With repeated contact with processionary caterpillars, the body can react to this and turn into an allergy. Such a reaction is more intense than the first reactions, such as swollen lips, eyelids and tongue. But also acute shortness of breath, so prevention is definitely better than cure.
What can you do?
As difficult as it is, when itching, try not to scratch. Rinse the skin and eyes thoroughly with lukewarm water. Try to strip out the itchy hairs using a tape or clothing roller. Wash all clothing that has been in contact with fire hairs at a high temperature. Do not hang the garments outside to avoid contact with hairs carried by the wind.
The first aid for severe itching are antihistamines (anti-hay fever tablets) cooling and anti-itch creams and gels. If this does not help enough, ask your doctor or dermatologist for a hormone ointment, which will relieve the itching symptoms. In case of shortness of breath, thick tongue, thick lips and eyes, call your doctor immediately.
If there is no new contact with stinging hairs, the complaints will disappear after days to weeks.
Unproven and definitely do not do it!
Sometimes the itch makes you distraught and you do things that are not recommended. Treating your skin with vinegar, alcohol, or talcum powder. Do not try to use a scrub to supposedly scrub out the stinging hairs. And finally, it has not been proven that blow-drying works against itching and burning hair.
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