Sweet itch also known as Summer Itch or more technically,Culicoides Hypersensitivity is caused by an allergic reaction some horses have to the saliva from a type of biting gnat or “midge”. These reactions can range from mild to severe depending on the individual horse and will cause intense inflammation and itching. Horses are most commonly affected in the summer months but in some climates this condition can be found almost year round. Prevention is the best defense with sweet itch though there are products and treatments that can help to alleviate some of your horses discomfort and speed the healing process if lesions have already broken out.
The affected areas may become hot to the touch, appear red and weepy. The hair, which may be standing straight up, will most often fall out leaving bald patches. The inflamed area will can be painful, or intensely itchy and horses will object to any pressure on the area. If the area is very itchy horses can cause further inflamed area themselves by rubbing on any available stationary object. There is also a chance that the area could become infected. The same horse will often be affected in the same area of their body year after year. As the insects disappear in the autumn, the allergic reaction will also subside and eventually disappear. The hair, as long as the horse has not badly damaged the area by rubbing, should regrow.
Gnats and midges are attracted to standing or slow moving water as well as wet, boggy ground. If you know your horse is prone to getting sweet itch then you want to try to minimize your horse’s access to these types of areas. Gnats and midges are most active in the morning and evening time so make sure to take that into consideration with your daily routine.
Prevention and Treatment:
The most commonly affected areas are your horse’s neck,back, tail head and sometimes the underside of the mid-line. If your climate allows, it can be helpful to utilize a fly sheet or other type of lightweight sheet to limit the insect’s access to those places on your horse’s body. Installing automatic fly spray systems in your barns can be helpful as well as installing fans to keep the air moving. The use of quality insect repellents can also be helpful though they will need to be applied on a regular basis to be effective. We recommend either the Endure or pyranha brands personally. The only issue with relying solely on insect repellents is that one, they tend to "sit" on the top layer of the hair and don't always offer protection all the way to the skin and two, when they do reach the skin they can sometimes cause additional irritation to already sensitive skin. We highly recommend including the EquiFUSE CitraFoam shampoo along with the Rehydrinse 1-step coat protector in your preventative grooming routine. The CitraFoam is a plant based, sulfate free shampoo that will calm and soothe the skin while adding much needed moisture back into the coat. Its plant based ingredients also work as a natural insect repellent that works from the skin out. The Rehydrinse with its hydrolyzed wheat protein and almond oil will protect, moisturize and promote a healthy coat.
Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing your horse’s allergic reaction so we always recommend that you have a veterinarian examine your horse to help determine if it is biting insects or something else that your horse may be reacting to. There are topical medications that contain corticosteroids that your veterinarian may prescribe to reduce the inflammation. This will only help to relieve some of the itchiness and pain,but it will not help with the cause or cure the problem itself.