Oh, those bloomin’ Florida oak trees . . .easy to love, but so tough to live with

 If you live in Florida you might develop paranoia about oak trees and allergy. Our prodigious oak tree population accounts for the most severe form or our pollen seasons – spring tree season.

They also provide a home for a special type of fire ant that can drop down on people to sting them. Finally, they can also be a source of Pyemotes herfsi, the oak leaf itch mite. This mite belongs to the biological class Arachnida (which includes all spiders), and to the subclass Acarina. All of the members of this class have 8 legs. Unlike spiders, however, these mites are extremely small – 0.2 millimeters – and are difficult to see with the naked eye.

They fall off the oak leaves on to unsuspecting people and cause a bite that is extremely itchy. The resultant rash is a red, raised area about the size of a mosquito bite, but with a tiny central pustule or blister.

Typically, the bites occur on exposed skin of the face, neck, arms and legs. Luckily, the mite does not burrow into the skin or lay eggs, so, it is one bite per mite and then it’s gone. Unfortunately, since the mites are so small they can be blown by the wind, and have even been documented to travel through screened windows.

Here in Florida the Pin Oak is the most common of the oak species to be invaded by the mites.

Prevention includes protective clothing and the use of insect repellant containing DEET. Treatment is symptomatic with the use of cool compresses, oral antihistamines and topical steroid creams.