What to Do When the Bugs Bite
When it comes to enjoying the great outdoors, mosquito bites seem to be an unavoidable evil, especially in warm, humid weather. While bees and wasps inject venom when they sting, mosquitoes inject a proboscis, which looks like a tiny straw, to suck up tiny amounts of your blood and release anti-clotting agents. The immune system reacts by releasing histamine, which creates a small, itchy bump. In other words, what you know to be a mosquito bite is not the bite itself, but your bodyâ€™s allergic reaction to substances that bite leaves behind.
While home fixes for mosquito bites allow you to avoid toxic pesticides, mosquito bites can be risky, too. Children are more susceptible to large and pesky mosquito bites than adults, and while most bites are harmless, some people have a severe, even life-threatening allergic reaction.
If youâ€™re in or planning to travel to a tropical area, itâ€™s important to know that mosquito bites also can carry diseases, like Zika, dengue, or chikungunya. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for more information on preventive measures you can take before traveling.
The best way to prevent mosquito bites naturally is to avoid the bugs themselves and know your own risk. Mosquitoes seem to be especially attracted to larger people and pregnant women. They are also attracted to sweet-smelling lotions and perfumes.
Know that some mosquito breeds prefer dawn and dusk, while others love the hottest times of the day. Steer clear of standing water, where mosquitoes breed and swarm, and cover up and wear light-colored long sleeves and pants when youâ€™re near an infested area. If you can, try to sleep in an air-conditioned area (versus an open-air room), or consider putting mosquito netting around beds.
Get Relief From the Bugbite Blues
For immediate relief, try an antihistamine cream or stick to help the itch and swelling. Donâ€™t have any in stock? Hit the kitchen, and hold a refrigerated, dampened green tea bag on the bite, recommends skin and beauty expert Jessica Wu, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at University of Southern California in Los Angeles. "The cold helps soothe the itch, and compounds in the tea help with inflammation.â€ Another option: Take a soak in a soothing oatmeal bath.
Pure Green Tea, $3.49, Thrivemarket.com
Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal, $6.99, Thrivemarket.com
A Dab of Honey
â€œ[I use] honey because it has an antiseptic ingredient.â€ â€” Atm Shahidul Hoque
Dr. Wu says: â€œHoney has an antibacterial ingredient, so theoretically it could help prevent a bite from getting infected. But the sweetness could attract more bites!â€
Organic Honey Bear, $4.29, Thrivemarket.com
â€œ[I use] Scotch tape.â€ â€” Tammy Mah Ung
Dr. Wu says: â€œPutting tape (or a bandage) on the bite will help remind you not to scratch, especially at night. If you scratch too hard, you could break the skin and introduce an infection.â€
Tender Tape, $4.99, Thrivemarket.com
Ever-Popular Aloe Vera
â€œAloe vera will draw the sting out.â€ â€” Tonya Jenkins
Dr. Wu says: â€œAloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties, so this could help the itch. For even more relief, stash your aloe vera gel in the fridge, since the cold will also help with the itchiness.â€
Try Preparation H
â€œPreparation H takes care of swelling and itching.â€ â€” Patricia McKinney
Dr. Wu says: â€œThis topical treatment can help reduce inflammation and may help with itching.â€
Alcohol, Witch Hazel, and Hand Sanitizer â€” Oh My!
â€œRubbing alcohol takes the itch away and the bite, too.â€ â€” Lori Carley
â€œ[I use] rubbing alcohol (and also witch hazel and tea tree oil). If it burns, I just tell my boys that the alcohol is killing the â€˜bug poison!â€™â€ â€” Kit Bowden Powers
â€œHand sanitizers work pretty well, and you don't need a lot.â€ â€” Robin Kirk Heizyk
Dr. Wu says: â€œRubbing alcohol, witch hazel, and tea tree oil have antiseptic properties, so they could help prevent bites from getting infected. And their stinging sensation helps distract you from the itch. Hand sanitizers with alcohol will act in the same way.â€
Witch Hazel Astringent, $7.99, Thrivemarket.com
Organic Tea Tree Essential Oil, $10.89, Thrivemarket.com
X Marks the Spot
â€œA good remedy of my grandma's was putting an X in the middle of the bite [with your fingernails]. It always seemed to work.â€ â€” Sherri Jeffries
Dr. Wu says: â€œPressing down on a bite â€” and causing some pain â€” helps distract from the itching. But donâ€™t press too hard, since breaking the skin could lead to infection."
â€œI just learned that if I rub a basil leaf on my mosquito bites, it stops itching. I wish I had known this when my daughter was little because I am amazed how much this works.â€ â€” Debora Ann Miller
Dr. Wu says: â€œBasil has been shown to repel mosquitoes. It does have anti- inflammatory properties, which could help the swelling.â€
Try an Aspirin Paste
â€œFor stings, I use crushed aspirin mixed with a smidge of water to make a paste that I dab right on. It takes the sting right away.â€ â€” Kris Ruff Brock
Dr. Wu says: â€œAspirin contains acetyl salicylic acid, which is anti- inflammatory. It doesnâ€™t hurt to try.â€
A Swish of Listerine
â€œI use regular Listerine for itchy bug bites.â€ â€” Brenda Black
Dr. Wu says: â€œIt has menthol, which cools the skin to help relieve itch.â€
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