Everyone wants to know how to stop mosquito bites itching this time of year. With so many backyard barbecues, family picnics, and lakeside get-togethers ahead, it’ll only be a matter of time until itching red patches appear (if they haven’t already).
If an overpowering desire to scratch a cluster of mosquito bites is causing you to miss out on your summer activities, there are a variety of treatments and home cures you may try to reduce your itching. Some are backed by science, while others aren’t.
With professional advice from specialists, learn why mosquito bites itch so much, which treatments truly work, and how to keep bloodsuckers away all summer long.
Why do mosquito bites itch?
When a mosquito bites you and sucks your blood, it leaves behind a small amount of saliva containing proteins that your body recognizes as intruders. According to Kelly Maples, MD, head of the Dermatology Committee for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, your immune system’s response to these proteins causes mosquito bite reactions.
Your body creates substances known as histamines to protect you. They cause itching, inflammation, and swelling as they build their defense.
“A modest reaction to mosquito bites as usual,” says Dr. Maples, “with redness approximately twenty minutes after the bite, followed by an itchy, hard bump that builds over the next day or two.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mosquito bites can be more irritating for youngsters, people who have never been bitten by a given kind of mosquito before, and those who have immune system diseases (CDC).
According to Dr. Maples, severe allergic reactions (also known as anaphylaxis or “skeeter syndrome“) to mosquito bites are extremely rare. According to MedlinePlus, a resource from the US National Library of Medicine, the following are symptoms that you should seek emergency medical care for right away:
- Swelling and redness beyond the bite site
- Trouble breathing
Aside from that, how we react to mosquito bites can make them particularly itchy. Payel Gupta, MD, a board-certified allergist and immunologist and co-founder of Cleared, a teleallergy platform, tells Health that as bothersome as they are, it’s better to avoid rubbing or scratching at them, which simply makes the itch worse.
Scratching bites may feel nice at first, but it destroys your skin, causing more histamines to be released—and the irritation that goes along with them. According to Dr. Gupta, exposing oneself to germs in your environment and beneath your nails can also raise your chance of illness.
So, how can you interrupt the itch-scratch cycle and allow the bites to heal? Begin with tried-and-true mosquito bite remedies.
Which mosquito bite treatments should you skip?
According to Susan Bard, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, while certain home cures for mosquito bites like honey, oatmeal, and aloe vera can help soothe irritated skin, they’re not nearly as helpful in the anti-itch area as other mosquito bite treatments. As a result, she does not endorse them.
Others, such as garlic and baking soda, may cause side effects such as skin irritation, dryness, and burns, according to Dr. Bard.
Regardless of ancient wives’ tales or other therapeutic features, the specialists we spoke with think these cures aren’t worth your time when it comes to soothing itching mosquito bites:
- Oatmeal baths
- Aloe vera
- Baking soda
- Lemon or lime juice
What are some doctor-approved mosquito bite treatments?
“Blocking histamine and other mediators of allergic reactions using cool compresses, over-the-counter oral antihistamines, and topical corticosteroids like hydrocortisone cream might help alleviate reactions to mosquito bites,” adds Dr. Maples.
A couple of home remedies may also be beneficial.
You should feel better in a few days. However, if you attempt them and your mosquito bites get worse or won’t stop itching, contact a doctor for more therapy, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
1. Ice the itch away
“Cold exposure can help numb the region and soothe any inflammation, so you don’t feel the bites as much,” Dr. Gupta explains. According to the University of Michigan Health Library, you can cure your itch with an ice pack, a washcloth soaked in ice water, or even a chilly bath.
2. Lather on anti-itch creams
Another approach is to follow the directions on the label of an over-the-counter calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. According to Anna Guanche, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Bella Skin Institute in Calabasas, CA, look for ointments that contain lidocaine or benzocaine for an added numbing effect.
However, according to the Mayo Clinic, consult your doctor before using hydrocortisone medications on young children since they may cause side effects.
3. Take antihistamines
Try a non-drowsy over-the-counter antihistamine like Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine), or Claritin if you have a lot of bites to itch (loratadine). Dr. Guanche notes, “Antihistamines inhibit histamine receptors to diminish the amount of stinging, welting, and swelling associated with bites.”
4. Apply rubbing alcohol
Dr. Guanche recommends dabbing little rubbing alcohol on bites for rapid, temporary relief. Because it evaporates quickly, rubbing alcohol may have a cooling impact that can help reduce itching. However, too much alcohol might irritate or burn, so just use a small amount.
5. Try lemon balm cream
Apply a lotion containing lemon balm essential oils to bites for a time-honored natural cure. According to Dr. Guanche, “compounds in lemon balm essential oils can help alleviate inflammation, speed up healing, and lower the chance of infection.”
If you’re pregnant, nursing, or treating a kid, consult a healthcare practitioner to ensure it’s safe and decide the right dosage, according to the Mount Sinai Health Library.