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Red, itchy, and swollen bumps on the skin are common symptoms of mosquito bites. But severe allergic reactions and mosquito-borne diseases manifest themselves in different ways and can lead to complications.
Almost everyone is susceptible to mosquito bites. But for people with severe allergies, symptoms can be more than just annoying: they can be serious. Most bites occur at dusk or in the morning when mosquitoes are most active. While male mosquitoes are harmless – feeding only on nectar and water – female mosquitoes are out for blood.
A female mosquito grabs hold of her victim with a combination of scent, exhaled carbon dioxide, and chemicals in the person’s sweat. When she finds a suitable meal, she lands on a piece of exposed skin and inserts her trunk to suck up the victim’s blood. The proboscis is the long, flexible tube that comes out of her head and can pierce human skin. The most common symptoms — a red bump and itching — aren’t caused by the bite itself, but by your body’s immune system’s response to proteins in the mosquito’s saliva. This reaction is also known as Skeeter syndrome.
Learn more about Skeeter syndrome and whether an encounter with mosquitoes can be potentially harmful.
Mosquitoes seem to prefer certain victims over others, including:
- pregnant woman
- overweight or obese people
- people with blood group O
- people who have exercised recently
- people who emit higher amounts of uric acid, lactic acid and ammonia
- people who have recently drunk beer
Because mosquitoes are attracted to heat, wearing dark colors can increase your chances of being bitten. This is because dark colors absorb heat. People who live in humid, tropical climates or swampy areas are also at a higher risk for bites.
Some people are also at greater risk of an allergic reaction, such as younger children. People with allergies to some components of mosquito saliva, such as proteins and antimicrobials, may also be at greater risk of developing Skeeter syndrome.
The more times a person has been bitten by mosquitoes, the more likely they are to become desensitized over time. That means adults tend to have less severe reactions to mosquito bites than children.
Common symptoms of mosquito bites are soft bumps on the skin that can become pink, red, and itchy. In most cases, redness and puffiness appear a few minutes after the mosquito pierces the skin. A firm, dark red bump often appears the next day, although these symptoms can appear up to 48 hours after the initial bite. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (AAAAI), contact with a mosquito must last six seconds or more to cause a reaction.
As your mosquito bite heals, the itching sensation will fade and the skin will gradually take on a less red or pinkish hue until it returns to its normal color. This usually takes about three to four days. The swelling will also subside after about a week.
A typical mosquito bite is less than an inch wide. Read more about recognizing insect bites.
Significantly larger mosquito bites, especially if they are larger than a quarter, can be one of the symptoms of a more serious allergic reaction. These symptoms can include:
Seek emergency medical help if you notice any of the following symptoms, as they could be signs of a more serious condition:
As with other allergies, prevention is the best approach. Mosquitoes need stagnant or stagnant water to reproduce. Avoid standing water if possible, especially at dusk and in the morning when mosquitoes are most active.
Eliminate standing water around the house by:
- unblock rain gutters
- empty children’s pools
- cleaning birdbaths
- emptying unused containers such as flower pots
Other ways to prevent mosquito bites are:
- wearing protective, light-colored clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and a wide-brimmed hat
- repairing holes in window or door screens
- using citronella scented candles in outdoor areas or on campsites
It is also important to use insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET. The AAAAI recommends using products that contain between 6 and 25 percent DEET. These provide up to six hours of protection. Follow directions carefully and reapply after swimming or sweating. Since repellents can also cause adverse skin reactions, test the product on a small area of your arm and wait 24 hours to make sure it’s safe to use on your entire body.
Methods to avoid
Do not use any of the following home remedies to prevent mosquito bites, as there is no evidence that they are effective:
- vitamin B supplements
- vanilla extract
- scented perfumes
Even the best preventative measures probably won’t protect you from all bites. In a normal reaction, a hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion will relieve the itch. A cold pack or ice cubes can also help relieve symptoms. For more serious allergic reactions, the following treatments may be used:
Try some of these home remedies for mosquito bite symptoms:
- Wash the bite area a few times a day and apply antibiotic ointment such as bacitracin/polymyxin (polysporin).
- Apply a cold, wet cloth to the bite area for a few minutes at a time to reduce swelling.
- Take a warm oatmeal bath to relieve itching.
- Apply a solution of baking soda and water a few times a day until the swelling and itching subside.
- Press the bite with your fingernail or another blunt object, such as a pen cap, for 10 seconds to temporarily relieve the itch.
You don’t need to cover the bite, but putting a bandage over it can prevent you from scratching the bite. A bandage can also help stop infection if the bite wound opens and scabs.
Possible complications of untreated mosquito bites can include:
Allergic reactions are not the only concern regarding mosquito bites. Mosquitoes can also transmit serious diseases, such as:
These mosquito-borne diseases have potentially life-threatening complications, even though the symptoms may only last a few days or may not seem severe. Zika virus
Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any of the following symptoms after a mosquito bite:
Skeeter syndrome is rare, but the allergic reaction can be severe enough to warrant immediate medical treatment.
If you are allergic to mosquito bites, you may want to consider ongoing treatment from an allergy specialist, especially if you live in mosquito-prone areas. An allergy specialist may be able to perform a skin prick test to isolate what part of the mosquito saliva you are allergic to and develop an immunotherapy plan. This usually consists of getting small injections of your allergen, over the course of several months or years, until you build up an immunity.
Skeeter syndrome does not cause long-term illnesses or lifestyle intrusions when properly managed. Just watch out for mosquitoes around you and have the right tools handy in case you get bitten.