A mosquito can be quite the nuisance on a hot summer day at the beach. Your intense game of sand volleyball can seem more like a fight against flying, blood-hungry pests than a game of friendly sport competition. And then there are those itchy bites that cause inflammation, redness, and soreness. In most cases, mosquitoes are nothing to worry about, but for some people they can cause a severe allergic reaction (a condition known as “skeeter syndrome”) and they can also transmit diseases.
With summer in full swing, here are some important things you should know about mosquitoes.
Why does a mosquito bite itch?
Female mosquitoes have an elongated mouthpart known as a “proboscis” that is used to penetrate skin and suck out blood for protein. When a mosquito bites you, she injects saliva into your body as an anti-coagulant, which keeps your blood from solidifying for quick extraction. The itchiness and mild irritation you feel is caused by an allergic reaction from the proteins in the mosquito’s saliva.
Although it can be difficult to ignore the itch, it’s best not to scratch it. This only provides temporary relief and it can actually make the bite feel itchier. Excessive itching can increase inflammation around the bite area and prolong the healing process, leaving you with an itchy bump or welt that lasts for days.
Treating Mosquito Bites
Most mosquito bites will eventually stop itching and heal on their own, but you can use over-the-counter creams to help reduce your symptoms. For example, hydrocortisone and antihistamine creams work well to cure the itch and reduce swelling. As always, be sure to check the warning label before applying a mosquito bite solution, especially if you have allergies.
If you don’t have hydrocortisone or antihistamine creams in your medicine cabinet, then you can try a few home remedies instead. Here are some things you can use on a mosquito bite to help relieve the itch and accelerate the healing process:
- An ice pack or ice cubes
- Baking soda
- Apple cider vinegar
- Oatmeal or saltwater
- Cooled tea
- Lavender oil
- Aloe vera
- Hot or cold water
Protecting Against Mosquitoes
The best way to keep mosquitoes from swarming your yard is to limit the source that attracts these pesky insects in the first place. For example, mosquitoes breed near water, so it’s a good idea to drain buckets, flowerpots, inflatable pools, or any other areas that collect rainwater from your yard. Unfortunately, if you live near a stream or a lake, then you will likely always battle with mosquito problems.
Insect repellent is another way you can protect yourself from mosquitoes. This works well to discourage them from landing on your skin, but it only provides temporary protection. The most effective insect repellents contain DEET, picaridin (or KBR 3023), and lemon eucalyptus. For an additional layer of protection, you can also use permethrin on your clothes and personal belongings to ward off hungry mosquitoes.
It’s also important to note that there are certain behaviors that can attract mosquitoes as well. For instance, carbon dioxide from heavy breathing and lactic acid from your sweat can trigger a mosquito’s sense of smell from over 50 yards away! In general, physical activity and heat are also magnets for mosquitoes.
When to See a Doctor
While mosquito bites are usually harmless, they can cause minor flu-like symptoms such as body aches, headaches, and vomiting. In severe cases (e.g. high fever, muscle weakness, vision loss, disorientation, etc.), make sure you seek medical attention right away, especially if you have abnormal swelling and or a red streak (i.e. infection) in your skin.
Mosquitoes can carry extremely dangerous illnesses such as West Nile Virus, malaria, and yellow fever, but symptoms may not occur until days or even weeks after a bite. Be sure to visit your doctor immediately if your symptoms suddenly become extremely debilitating.