Mosquito Bites: Treatment and Prevention Tips
That lady mosquito that descended on your arm or leg for a taste was very attracted to you—to your heat, perspiration, body odor, and even carbon dioxide emissions. She landed on your skin with just one goal: a meal. To that end, she stuck her sharp, thin proboscis (or mouthpart) into your skin and began sucking your blood. Her saliva contained proteins, digestive enzymes, and anticoagulants (which prevent your blood from clotting). Once she finished gathering her nourishment, the mosquito departed (or met a deadly end via a palm or fly swatter).
It takes her just a few seconds to do her job, and now you are left with a bit of an unwelcome gift. Some saliva remains in the wound, and the proteins swimming around within it provoke an immune response from your body. Your body's responses to the mosquito's saliva in your bloodstream include the signature redness, swelling, and bump and are what make your mosquito bite itch so much. The swelling will usually go away before the itch; the bump only remains until your immune cells break down and remove the foreign agent from your bloodstream. But as long as that itch exists, you'll never forget about that little winged lady who sucked your blood.
Identifying Mosquito Bites
Sometimes you don't see what it was that snacked on you, so you may feel inclined to get a little nervous. However, a mosquito bite is recognizable by the pale halo that forms around the dot-like bite, called a "wheal." Different people's bodies take different amounts of time to react to the mosquito bite. The reaction usually occurs anywhere from moments to 24 hours after the bite.
Mosquito Bites - A Quick Bit of Science
Interestingly enough, the first time a mosquito bites, there is no reaction. As you attract more mosquitoes and more bites over time, your body begins to react to the proteins and enzymes, and the red bumps start to appear within a day. After enough bites, your body will react within minutes.
Eventually, some people become immune to bites, and show no reaction when bit. In contrast, others may develop a mosquito bite allergy and exhibit more severe reactions to the bites, such as blistering, bruising, extreme swelling, and prolonged itching. The latter must, unfortunately, deal with this allergy by avoiding bites as much as possible.
Scientists have even discovered that specific cells in the mosquito's "nose" identify the chemicals which make up the human odor; to the mosquito, some people just smell better and appeal more to mosquitoes. An extra whiff of carbon monoxide or a little extra perspiration and the mosquito is ready to target you specifically—even in a crowd. That explains why at a picnic or at a backyard barbecue, there's always one person who seems to be the main course in the mosquito bite buffet while others are not even bothered by a single pest. The old joke about being extra "sweet" to the taste of that mosquito is actually true.
Some technologies such as mosquito traps by Mega-Catch actually exploit this natural identification system by confusing the mosquitoes' sense of smell, luring them away from human prey and into the traps.
Watch a Mosquito Bite & Feed
Treating the Mosquito Bite
Mosquito bite treatment starts with cleaning the area and addressing the reaction as soon as you realize you've been bitten. A simple mild soap and warm water wash is the first place to start; afterward, pat dry with a soft towel and resist the urge to rub. Scratching and rubbing will prolong the mosquito bite itch instead of offering (temporary) relief. You also run the risk of introducing dirt and bacteria into the open area and developing an infection.
If the urge to scratch is too overwhelming, there are several mosquito bite remedies that you may already have in your medicine cabinet or pantry. Try one of the fixes below:
- Baking soda
- Mix two parts baking soda to one part water until it reaches the consistency of a sticky paste.
- Apply the paste directly onto the bite and wait for it to dry.
As it dries, it will alleviate the sting and bring some relief to the itching and swelling. This is a great treatment for those with sensitive skin and for small children because the ingredients are mild and won't cause irritation. Just wash it off after the urge to scratch has gone away (remember to pat dry instead of using a rubbing motion) and reapply if the symptoms flare up again.
Ice or a Cold Can of Soda
This is a great quick fix, particularly if you're out of the house and unable to reach a first aid kit or get to the kitchen. Use an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel to ease the mosquito bite's swelling. A cold can of soda or bottled water will also work.
Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera gel is nature's gift for treating mosquito bites. The coolness eases symptoms and forms a protective layer after application that reduces the risk of infection. Reapplication will be necessary. It's good to do another soap and water wash every few hours.
From the medicine cabinet, the following can relieve itching:
- Calamine lotion
- A topical anesthetic containing pramoxine
- One-percent-hydrocortisone cream
If topical creams don't take care of the symptoms immediately, try taking an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen. It will help to reduce the swelling of the bites. For more severe cases, an antihistamine such as Benadryl will also help, but check with your doctor before administering the medication for this reason.
If the mosquito bite does not respond to topical treatments and the skin around the area becomes warm, red and swollen, the bite may be infected. Call a medical practitioner in this case; a stronger treatment may be necessary.
Unfortunately, beyond the irritation of bites, mosquitoes can also carry disease. West Nile and encephalitis are two mosquito-borne diseases that have been reported in the United States. If you begin to experience headaches, fever, vomiting, chills, or muscle aches, you may have contracted something more than a bump from that mosquito bite. Contact your physician immediately if any of these symptoms develop.
Preventing Mosquito Bites
Though there are ample remedies for mosquito bites, the best thing you can do is protect yourself from them in the first place. Wear long-sleeved, lightweight shirts when gardening or spending time outside. Whenever you're outside for a long time, apply a safe repellent and reapply it after awhile, as the chemicals will wear off.
If you suffer from a serious reaction to mosquito bites or have a compromised immune system, try to stay away from places where mosquitoes clearly congregate to ensure that you won't become that mosquito's next meal!
More Mosquito Information
- Mosquito World: When Mosquitoes Bite
Learn more about what exactly is happening when a mosquito bites you.
- American Mosquito Control Association
Under "Mosquito Info," you can learn more about mosquitoes, mosquito-borne diseases, repellents, and traps.
- Mosquito Facts: All about Mosquitoes
Surprising facts you may not know about mosquitoes.