The Best Ways to Avoid a Mosquito Bite & How to Recover Quickly


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.

What Does a Mosquito Bite Look Like?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a typical mosquito bite looks like a puffy, red or reddish-brown bump that shows up a few minutes after the bite. Mosquito bites can feel hard and are usually itchy. It's possible to see multiple bumps appearing a day or so after the bite or bites. 

Do Male Mosquitos Bite?

Mosquitoes usually feed on nectar, sap and other sweet substances, but the female bugs need the additional nourishment of blood to lay eggs. Meaning, male mosquitos do not bite people or animals for blood. Only female mosquitos bite, in order to get a meal of blood to support their egg production. Without eating blood, most female mosquitos cannot produce eggs, according to the CDC

Do Mosquitoes Prefer Certain People?

“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.

Why Does a Mosquito Bite Itch?

“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.

Mosquito Bite Allergic Reaction Symptoms

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. 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.

Symptoms of skeeter syndrome

  • 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

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 of mosquito bite allergic reaction

How to Prevent Mosquito Bites

Insect Repellent

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're 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. 

Insect-Repelling Clothing

If you're planning to be outdoors, especially near bodies of water, consider long-sleeved shirts and pants to prevent mosquito bites. Since mosquitos can bite through clothing, loose-fitting clothes may be better than thin, skin-tight clothing. The CDC also recommends using 0.5% permethrin to treat clothing and gear to kill or repel mosquitos. However, never use permethrin directly on skin.

Why is it Bad to Scratch a Mosquito Bite?

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.

When to Worry About a Mosquito Bite

Here are 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
  • Fever/chills
  • 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.

If home remedies aren’t working, and a pesky mosquito bite is bugging you—talk to a UnityPoint Health doctor to help you identify the bite and get some relief.