Just when we thought the 2020s decade couldn’t possibly throw anything else new at us, well—you might want to take a seat. We would like to introduce you to the wonderful world of oak mites, and the unpleasant side effect they are leaving behind on our skin.
What are oak mites?
Oak mites are small, microscopic parasites, oftentimes unable to be seen by the naked eye. They also go by the names itch mites, oak leaf gall mites, or oak tree mites. While they are new to many individuals this year, the first reported case in the United States was in 2004 when a breakout of these biting mites was discovered in Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Nebraska. Since 2004, oak mites have spread and are commonly noticed in the summer and late fall. Experts on oak mites have stated they can go from minimal counts to infestation levels within a very short window of time. Multiple generations can be born in a single week and can fall from oak trees in numbers of more than 300,000 at a time. Their small size allows them to travel in the wind, and they often get into homes through open windows or land on people sitting or walking beneath the trees.
Insect experts have found that oak mites don’t tend to be an issue every year, but instead develop in cycles. Oak mites are hitting the east coast–particularly the Washington D.C. and Arlington region–hard this summer. Dr. Rhett Kent, board-certified dermatologist with Forefront Dermatology in Arlington shared, “In August alone, 60% to 90% of my patients have experienced oak mite bites. I’ve never seen anything before where I could say that over 50% of the patient population is having any one such problem. It’s quite dramatic. The oak mites are definitely getting around right now.”
What does an oak mite bite look like?
Because oak mites can fall from trees in large quantities and go vastly undetected, they can easily surprise an individual with bites. Oak mite bites are most commonly seen on the arms, neck and face, but can occur on any area of your body that is exposed. When an oak mite bites a human it releases a small amount of venom, similar in nature to a mosquito. This venom of an oak mite can cause redness, swelling, welts, bumps and itchiness. It is common for an oak mite bite to initially develop as a small bump and transform into an itchy blister or painful rash. “There is a spectrum of bite reaction severity that we see year-to-year. Most patients will have a mild reaction to other common season arthropods, such as the mosquito,” stated Dr. Kent. “In the case of the oak mites, almost everyone is having an exuberant redness with some blistering in the center. It is definitely a more severe end of the spectrum that we’re dealing with right now.” Although uncomfortable, an oak mite bite is typically not dangerous but can leave you uncomfortable for 2 weeks.
What is the best way to avoid an oak mite bite?
While you can’t avoid oak mites that get taken away by the wind, it is best to avoid sitting beneath or being in close proximity to oak trees. If you need to be outdoors and in a wooded area, it is best to cover as much skin as possible. Oak mites can stay on your body or clothing until you wash them off. It is best after coming indoors for the day to immediately wash your clothing and take a shower.
What treatment is available for an oak mite bite?
“Over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams can be used for most mild bites, but they do very little for more robust oak mite bites. For more severe bite reactions, like the ones being seen recently with oak mites, Dr. Kent recommends a prescription-grade topical steroid in combination with an oral non-sedating antihistamine such as Allegra or Zyrtec.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of an oak mite rash, you can request an appointment with a Forefront Dermatology skin specialist by finding your nearest location here. If you are in the Arlington, VA area and wish to meet with Dr. Kent, you can schedule an appointment online here.