Dear Angie: I've worked in my yard for years and I love it. But this year I have been covered in bites or welts that look like mosquito bites. But I don't notice bugs. Is there some drought-related infestation of a weed or something I could be allergic to? I haven't noticed any new plants out there, but it's getting so I don't want to go out in the yard. Who can help me figure this out? — Cheryl R., Indianapolis
Dear Cheryl: There are several possible conditions that could cause what you are describing. According to highly rated dermatologists on Angie's List, the bumps could be a rash caused by heat or sunlight, a reaction caused by an arthropod (insect or arachnid) bite or sting, or a Rhus (plant-based) dermatitis.
You'll probably need to visit a dermatologist to determine whether it's a rash or bite, but a simple first step in your treatment would be to try an over-the-counter, non-sedating antihistamine after discussing any medications you take with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure there are no possible interaction side effects. If after trying the antihistamine your symptoms don't improve or get worse, I recommend visiting your dermatologist.
If the bumps are caused by bites or stings, then the drought conditions could be a factor. As the dry weather has stressed insects that normally feed on moist plants, they've begun feeding on people instead. Certain small plant-feeding insects such as thrips can bite, especially if taken indoors away from their normal plant food sources.
Location of the bites might give some clue as to the source. Chigger bites usually occur under clothing like socks or undergarments or behind the knees or in armpits. Chiggers are a type of mite found on blades of grass and low-growing plants, and are almost impossible to spot with the naked eye. They attach themselves to people and can cause a bite that resembles a mosquito's.
Fleas are another possibility, especially if domestic animals or wildlife, like deer, are nearby. Fleas, like chiggers, thrive in hot, dry weather.
If you want to continue to work in your yard, consider applying a topical insect repellent to exposed skin areas and protect your skin by wearing long clothing.
If the source of your bumps is insect bites or stings, you would be well-served to contact a pest management professional to treat your yard. Look for a licensed pest control company that will work with you to treat a specific area or the entire lawn, depending on your needs.