Warm weather means the return of pesky mosquitoes. Preventing mosquito bites can be tricky and dealing with the itch afterward is annoying. Did you know some people are more susceptible to being bitten? Jesse Becker, ARNP, UnityPoint Health, answers seven common mosquito questions and gives her list of mosquito bite home remedies to stop the itching, fast.
Why Does a Mosquito Bite Itch?
Mosquitoes usually feed on nectar, sap and other sweet substances, but the female bugs need the additional nourishment of blood to lay eggs. That makes us a nice, big target.
“When a mosquito bites, it buries its entire snout into your skin. This snout isn't just a single tube, but rather six mouthparts all working together to grip the flesh, pierce the skin and drive the central needle (2 parallel tubes) into your skin. Then one tube injects saliva while the other tube takes the blood out,” Becker says.
The body’s immune system kicks into gear and releases a histamine in response to the bug’s salvia. The histamine is a defense mechanism your body uses to fight infection and help heal.
“With the saliva in your body and the histamine released, your body responds with a small area of swelling and itching – a mosquito bite. Most people have a minimal response and notice small, pink, itchy bumps within 20 minutes of the bite. The itching usually peaks within 24-48 hours. The bite generally fades over three-to-four days. It may take up to a week to completely heal. Unfortunately, some people experience mosquito bites worse than others.
Can You Be Allergic to Mosquito Bites?
Skeeter syndrome is a rare condition caused by an allergic reaction to a mosquito’s bite. Those who suffer from it often develop a moderate-to-severe local allergic reaction. Symptoms of skeeter syndrome include:
- Itchy or painful area of redness
- Swelling measuring 2 to more than 10 cm in diameter
- Warm to the touch
- Bruise-like appearance
- Tiny blisters near the bite
The symptoms usually develop within hours of being bitten and get progressively worse over 8-12 hours. It may take up to 10 days to completely heal.
In addition to skeeter syndrome, some people may also suffer from a severe mosquito bite allergy, which would result in a full-body allergic reaction. Becker says this type of reaction is what most think of when talking about an “allergic reaction” to a mosquito bite. Symptoms could include:
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Joint stiffness
- Severe headache
- Muscle weakness
- Anaphylaxis (throat swelling) (very rare)
Do Mosquitoes Prefer a Certain Human Blood Type?
The United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a study observing the landing preference of a certain type of mosquito. The study looked at blood types A, B, AB and O.
- Top Preference: Type O blood
- Second Preference: Type A blood
Becker says the mosquitoes used in the study are just one type of mosquito, so if you have a blood type that’s not listed you should still be cautious. However, it’s not just blood type luring mosquitoes your direction.
“Substances, such as ammonia and lactic acid, found in sweat are known to attract mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are also attracted to people with genetically higher body temperatures, people who are exercising, people with a fever or those who are pregnant. Wearing black, dark blue or red clothing can also make you a mosquito magnet. One study even showed mosquitoes are attracted to people who've been drinking beer,” Becker says.
Are All Mosquito Repellents Equally Effective?
Mosquito repellents come in a variety of forms – sprays, creams, natural solutions, stickers, etc. While some prove useful, others lack effectiveness. Mosquito repellents containing picaridin and DEET are the most recommended forms of prevention.
“Picaridin blocks a mosquito’s ability to locate human skin by creating a shield on the skin. Another perk, picaridin is odorless, doesn't leave a residue and can last 8-10 hours. It can be applied safely to children 3 months and older,” Becker says.
Overall, when comparing DEET and picaridin, Becker recommends a product with picaridin since it can be considered more effective and potentially less toxic. If you are selecting a DEET product, consider the concentration.
“The higher the DEET concentration, the longer lasting the protection. A product with 10 percent DEET provides protection for about two hours, while products with 30 percent DEET last up to five hours. Repellents containing 10-30 percent DEET can be used on children ages 2 months and above,” Becker says.
Regardless of which type of repellent you use, it’s a good idea to wash it off once you go indoors.
Are Mosquitoes Only Out During Peak Times of Early Morning and Evening?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mosquitoes carrying different diseases are active at different times of the day.
|Time of Day When Active
|Diseases Carried by Mosquitoes
| From dawn to dusk (daylight hours)
| From dusk to dawn (night hours)
- West Nile
According to the CDC, there are more than 200 types of mosquitoes living in the U.S. Of those, only about 12 spread germs that make people sick. Most are considered nuisance mosquitoes. However, since you can’t control which mosquito bites you, the best way to prevent mosquito bites is to always use repellent when outside for any length of time.
Can Mosquitoes Spread COVID-19?
There is no data to suggest that mosquitoes can spread COVID-19. In a study from 2020, research found the virus couldn’t replicate in the cells of a mosquito. Researchers with the same study also collected more than one-thousand mosquitoes in the Chinese city where the outbreak was first identified. Those mosquitoes all tested negative for the virus.
“COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that mainly spreads person-to-person when an infected person breathes out very small droplets that contain the virus. Other people breathe in those droplets or they land in another person’s eyes, nose or mouth. That’s why people who are closer than six feet from the infected person are more likely to get sick,” Becker says.
If You Scratch a Mosquito Bite, Will it Stop Itching?
Depending on how your body reacts to mosquito bites, scratching might seem like the only option. But, itching a mosquito bite can prolong the healing process.
“As hard as it can be, don’t itch them! Scratching mosquito bites just makes them itch more and increases the risk of developing a skin infection. If you scratch too much and break the skin open, a bacterial skin infection can develop, which will require a visit to urgent care or UnityPoint Clinic - Express,” Becker says.
Instead of scratching, apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to help take away the itch.
Here are additional signs it’s time to visit urgent care:
- Wide area of redness around the initial bite
- Noticeable swelling beyond what's seen after the initial bite
- A yellow, creamy discharge (pus) from the bite
- Worsening pain at the site of the bite
- Red lines streaking away from the bite
- Increased warmth when touching the bite
9 Expert-Recommended Mosquito Bite Home Remedies
Once you realize you've become the victim of a mosquito bite, the area should be washed thoroughly with soap and water to remove any saliva and bacteria. If the typical over-the-counter anti-itch items don’t help, Becker suggests trying something from her list of mosquito bite home remedies.
- Ice. The cold causes constriction of blood vessels reducing flow to the area. It’ll reduce swelling and itching.
- Oatmeal. It can relieve both itching and swelling due to the oats’ compounds (avenanthramides and polyphenols). Applying it can be difficult but try mixing it with equal parts water and whipping into a paste. Apply to the bite and leave it on for at least 10 minutes.
- Honey. It’s been found by researchers to have soothing properties. By applying a small drop, it’ll reduce swelling and aid in healing and preventing infection.
- Aloe Vera. The gel contains hormones (called auxins and gibberellin) that help heal wounds, soothe irritation and reduce inflammation. Use aloe from the store or open a small section of the plant and apply directly to your bite.
- Onions. Quercetin (plant pigment) found in onions can act as a powerful anti-inflammatory. When eaten, they can also prevent cells from releasing histamine. (If you remember, this is the process initiated when bitten by the mosquito.) Grab an onion, slice it open and apply it directly to the bite. Once you notice relief, rinse the area well.
- Garlic. While it contains both antiseptic and antibacterial properties, it can also be used to minimize inflammation and soothe skin. When crushed or chopped, the active ingredient (allicin) is released. Unfortunately, allicin is also the reason garlic smells so strong. To reduce the stench, try mixing the crushed pieces with your favorite smelling essential oil or even coconut oil before applying to the bite.
- Essential Oils. These can be used to soothe itching and decrease swelling. Basil, thyme, peppermint, lavender, clove, geranium, white camphor and citronella oils are all good choices for mosquito bites.
- Toothpaste. The active ingredients of menthol and baking soda relieve itching, soothe irritation and reduce inflammation.
- Witch Hazel. This product causes contraction of the skin, leading to a reduction in inflammation and a soothing sensation. You can purchase this product as pads or liquid and apply it as often as needed.
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