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— Mosquito Bites —
Why They Itch & How to Make It Stop

mosquitoWarm, summer days call for hanging out in the backyard and taking long walks out in the sunshine...and that means sharing the outdoors with mosquitoes.

Lately, the fear of mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile Virus has increased awareness of the fact that these buzzing pests love damp, marshy places with standing water where they can breed.

Lakes, rivers, or marshlands near the ocean are wonderful climates for mosquitoes. Don't think that a hike in the mountains or forests means a mosquito free experience. The damp leaves and standing water that keeps the trees green provide lots of spaces where mosquitoes can find a home.

What's a mosquito bite?

Mosquitoes are designed to get their protein in liquid form. When the little insect stabs her victim with that needle-like mouthpart, she injects a liquid containing digestive enzymes and anticoagulants to season her meal. The proteins in this liquid are the cause of the allergic reaction we call a mosquito bite.

Why does it itch?

The first bite doesn't cause any reaction, but it does sensitize the body to the foreign proteins. The next few bites are the worst as the body fights the invading proteins. Babies and young children often experience more redness and swelling when they get bitten.

In most cases, as time passes and more mosquito bites come and go, the immune system begins to get less sensitive and the bite will cause less irritation. Some people become so desensitized that they become "immune" to the itchy bites.

Others develop greater sensitivity with every bite.

Don't scratch

It's hard not to scratch an itch, but in the case of a mosquito bite, scratching just causes more irritation. Your immune system interprets that as a call for more antibodies to fight the foreign proteins. The more you scratch, the more it will itch and the longer it will take to go away. When you rub and scratch you also risk breaking the skin, resulting in an infection or a scar.

What you can do to prevent mosquito bites

You can hide indoors all summer wearing long pants and a long shirt and gloves... but you may still get a bite.

There are plenty of bug repellents, some with sunscreen and some without, that will make your skin unattractive to a hungry mosquito. Doctors recommend finding one that includes DEET, which repels both ticks and mosquitoes. DEET is approved for children over 2 months old, but check with your pediatrician before using any products containing toxic substances on your children.

mosquitoThere are other, natural ways that are said to reduce your chances of getting bit. Aromatherapy experts suggest essential oils in basil as a natural cure for related itching and burning. Other sources claim that eating garlic and boosting your intake of foods containing vitamin B1 (thiamine). Whether that works or not is up for debate, but both garlic and vitamin B1 are said to boost your immune function so there may be something to this.

Wearing sweet scents — either perfumes or after shaving lotions — seems to attract more mosquitoes. Many people believe that rubbing down with vinegar, onion juice or garlic prevents getting bitten, but then you smell like garlic, onions or vinegar and mosquitoes may not be the only ones who want to avoid getting anywhere near you!

A number of gardeners also swear by a plant to help repel mosquitos called the American beautyberry. Although folklore is full of homemade remedies that are said to repel the backyard pests, this one has some scientfic research to bolster claims that it actually works.

Other plants that are said to work to help repel mosquitoes include marigolds, rosemary and, surprisingly, catnip.

Try these tips to help with itch
  • Ken Haller, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University advises that mosquito bites seem to come with summer. It's best to think ahead and apply an insect repellent – some even are combined with sunscreen to give double protection from summer hazards – before going out. But if you forget and get an itchy welt, dab a bit of roll-on antiperspirant directly on the bug bite and the itching will stop. "The aluminum salts in the antiperspirant help the body to reabsorb the fluid in the bug bite. The swelling goes down and the itching goes away," he says. (Newswise)

  • Another method that has many followers is to dig two fingernails into the skin on either side of the bite. Push hard enough to dent the skin but not too hard, you don't want to cut yourself. Then lightly slap the spot a few times. The theory behind this is that the slight pain takes precedence over the itch signal that your brain is getting. Your nerves can't transmit both itching and hurting at the same time. The pain is mild but its enough to drown out the itch.

  • Others say that a wipe with alcohol will stop the itch. Carrying packets of alcohol wipes make it easy to apply no matter where you are when you get a bite... also recommended are white vinegar and onion juice. Old fashioned, brown kitchen soap rubbed on the spot is rumored to tame the itch.

  • Applying heat or running hot water over the bite is supposed to help break down the enzymes and ease the itch. If you try this home remedy, make sure that you don't use anything hot enough to burn the skin!

There are plenty of itch reducing creams and lotions on the shelves of your local drug store. Calamine lotion is an old stand by, but there are many alternatives. If you're not sure what to try, ask your doctor or pharmacist what they recommend.

If you are extremely allergic to mosquito bites, speak to your doctor about prescribing an antidote - usually an antihistamine - if you do get a bite and make sure to carry it with you...just in case. If the welts get very red and don't calm down after a few hours, you may need to seek medical help to avoid a more severe reaction. If the welts are still red and sore after two days, it may mean that the site has become infected and a call to your health care provider is recommended.

Most mosquito bites will be just a minor annoyance, so apply your repellent and go ahead and brave the great outdoors!


More about mosquitoes & mosquito bites around the Web:

10 Home Cures for Itchy Mosquito Bites - Check out homemade recipes for getting the itch out.

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