|Understanding mosquito bites|
There are different ways to cope with mosquito bites but in order to understand how to treat and prevent them, it is helpful to be aware of why mosquitoes bite in the first place and why the bites get so itchy.
Just like any living creature, mosquitoes need to eat to survive to procreate. Female mosquitoes breed in stagnant or standing water and feed on human blood in order to feed their eggs.
While biting, the mosquito deposits saliva into the bite. The mosquito’s saliva contains proteins that can cause the body’s immune system to react to the foreign substance in such way as causing a bump and itch at the bite area.
The red or pink raised skin of a mosquito bite can appear right away or may take a couple days to be visible. The itchy area can become much larger if you are highly sensitive to mosquito bites.
Sensitivity to mosquito bites tends to decrease with age if you have been bitten several times throughout your life. Children who have not had many mosquito bites tend to experience stronger reactions after being bitten.
Mosquitoes not only feed on humans but also birds and other animals and this is why mosquitoes can spread serious illnesses such as the West Nile virus.
If you have mosquito bites along with symptoms of fever, nausea, vomiting, skin rash, fatigue, headache or body aches, see your doctor. If the symptoms of swelling, redness, itch and tenderness from your mosquito bites worsen or if pus develops, talk to your doctor.
When a mosquito bites you, it is recommended to wash the area with mild soap and water. This will help keep the area clean and prevent infection. If at all possible, avoid scratching the bite! Cover the mosquito bite to refrain from scratching, keep your fingernails short or even wear gloves when sleeping. This will help decrease swelling and redness of the area. Use cool compresses to the affected areas to help soothe the itch and decrease swelling.
If your mosquito bites are still bothering you, there are several different types of non-prescription drug treatments available like topical creams, lotions, liquids or even oral medication. There are skin protecting products containing ingredients such as zinc oxide or calamine, which lessen irritation and inflammation of the skin. Raw or colloidal oatmeal found in lotions and creams provide itch relief. A cool water oatmeal bath may help alleviate discomfort. Counterirritant products (e.g., menthol, camphor or ammonia) also help to alleviate the itch and irritation of mosquito bites. These kinds of products provide soothing relief of pain.
Another type of treatment includes topical pain relievers or anesthetics (e.g., pramoxine, benzocaine, lidocaine) that, when applied to mosquito bites, will help to decrease itch by numbing the area of the skin. Products containing hydrocortisone 0.5% are available without a prescription. This kind topical steroid can be applied to mosquito bites for comfort because this drug will provide itch relief as well as decreases swelling, redness and tenderness.
Topical antihistamines containing diphenhydramine also help reduce symptoms of pain and itch by decreasing the allergic reaction from the mosquito bite. If the symptoms are unbearable, oral antihistamines may be used to lessen the irritation. However, oral antihistamine drugs can cause more chance of side effects and drug interactions compared to topical products. Drowsiness is a side effect of some oral antihistamines that may be favourable to someone who suffers from itching and cannot sleep.
Since there are many treatments available, ask your pharmacist for a recommendation. Your pharmacist can give you more detailed information and help determine which is the safest suitable option for you.
To prevent mosquito bites avoid spending time outdoors during high mosquito activity, which is from dusk to dawn.
Dress appropriately –
- Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and socks (tuck pants into socks.)
- Wear light-coloured clothing – dark clothing absorbs heat and may cause you to sweat. Mosquitoes are attracted to darker colours and to the chemicals in sweat.
- Wear a hat and mosquito net to cover face and neck
- Use a mosquito net to cover the stroller of an infant
- Spray mosquito repellent on clothing or on a mosquito net – mosquitoes can bite through thin clothing.
Decrease the amount of mosquitoes around or in your home –
- Avoid having areas of standing water in your yard. Empty containers that might have collected rain water to reduce the breeding grounds of mosquitoes.
- Repair any holes in windows and door screens
Use mosquito repellent containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide). This chemical prevents the attraction of mosquitoes to those who apply it. Make sure to read the safety instructions and directions before using to ensure correct use.
Here is a basic guideline recommending the concentration of DEET based on age:
- Six months or younger: Do not use DEET.
- Six month to two years: Maximum of one application per day for DEET concentrations up to 10%. Consult doctor or pharmacist.
- Two to 12 years old: Maximum of three applications per day for DEET concentrations up to 10%.
- Older than 12 years: Use no more than a 30% concentration of DEET.
Don’t let mosquitoes get you down! Take steps to make yourself less attractive to mosquitoes. Use proper treatments to help you deal with mosquito bites so you can go about enjoying your summer.
The above information is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor, pharmacist or qualified health care professional to receive proper medical treatment.
Armalyn Tesoro is a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy. She is currently working as a licensed community pharmacist at Walmart on Ellice and Empress.