Skeeter Syndrome: This Allergic Reaction to Mosquitos is a Real Thing

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

There are a lot of reasons to hate mosquitoes; these bloodsuckers carry diseases like the West Nile and Zika viruses, dengue fever, and malaria. But even without the threat of serious illness, mosquitoes can make summer a living hell if you have a mosquito bite allergy—developing huge, red, swollen bumps compared to the small bumps most people get. As it turns out, there’s a name for this allergy. Here’s everything you need to know about “skeeter syndrome” and how to keep yourself safe.

What is skeeter syndrome?

Purvi Parikh, MD, a New York City allergist and immunologist with the non-profit Allergy & Asthma Network, explains that skeeter syndrome is an allergic reaction to the proteins in mosquito saliva. “Most people get some type of reaction—a small bump and a little redness–but for some people, it’s really extreme,” Dr. Parikh tells ishonest.

Skeeter syndrome symptoms

Skeeter syndrome is characterized by signs of skin inflammation, including swelling, heat, redness, and itching or pain. “An allergist can diagnose it with a skin test in the office, but we can usually diagnose it clinically, as well,” says Dr. Parikh. “If someone comes in and their entire arm is swollen and red from a mosquito bite, it can be pretty obvious.”

Some of the cases described in medical literature show just how severe these reactions can be—faces can puff up, eyes can swell shut, and entire limbs can become red and swollen. In the most severe cases, mosquito bites can cause bruising and blistering. Some people can also experience a fever, vomiting, or difficulty breathing.

Skeeter syndrome treatment

If a bad reaction to mosquitoes is affecting your ability to enjoy the great outdoors, the best way to remedy that is to prevent bites in the first place, says Dr. Parikh. “If you know you’re predisposed to this, it’s important to carry bug spray with you or wear clothing that covers your skin when you know you’re going to be in a mosquito-infested area,” she says.

There are also things you can do to feel better faster if you do get bitten. An oral antihistamine, like Benadryl, can reduce itching and swelling, and an over- the-counter hydrocortisone cream can provide some relief when rubbed directly on the bite.

“Applying ice or a cold compress can help too, because sometimes the bites get really red and hot and angry-looking,” says Dr. Parikh. For the most extreme cases, she adds, there may be a more permanent solution: “Here in our practice, we do have one or two patients that get it so badly that they’re getting desensitized through allergy shots, the same way they would for dust or mold,” she says.

Allergy shots may be a bigger-than-necessary commitment for most people, however —especially because skeeter syndrome isn’t life-threatening and mosquitoes usually aren’t a year-round problem. “It’s easier to avoid bites in the first place with careful planning,” Dr. Parikh says, “and to carry medications with you that can help provide some relief.”

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