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Treating mosquito bites

While no New Zealand mosquitoes carry serious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever or Zika, there’s no reason to put up with itching and irritating mozzie bites around the BBQ or at the beach over summer.

The easiest way to prevent them is to wear a repellent - today’s repellents feel and smell a lot nicer on the skin than some of us remember - but short of covering up with clothing, staying indoors and spraying the whole house with fly spray, sooner or later we’re going to get bitten.

Here's how to treat those inevitable mosquito bites.

What makes mosquito bites itch so much?

Mosquito biting human skinItchy bites are caused by the body’s immune response to the saliva of biting insects. The saliva contains an anti-coagulant to keep the blood flowing while it feeds. The body releases histamine into the surrounding skin and tissue which causes inflammation and itchiness.

Some people will have an allergic reaction to mosquito bites (this can also go for sandfly and flea bites too) causing excessive inflammation, swelling, blistering and pain in the area of the bite. The skin may be quite red and also feel very warm to touch.

How to stop mosquito (and other insect) bites itching

Most bites from mosquitoes and other insects should disappear over 1 - 3 days, but in the meantime it can be impossible not to itch them.

Repeated itching or scratching at bites can easily break the surface of the skin and can increase the risk of infection. It also increases the inflammation of the skin and surrounding tissue and makes it even itchier. Reducing the itch, especially for children, might make them heal faster and clear up all on their own.

Itchiness can also a case of mind over matter. As we’ve all discovered, focusing our attention on just how ITCHY a bite is makes it even worse! But if we can distract ourselves then suddenly the itch disappears into the background and we may no longer notice it.

Here are the best ways to reduce the itch from mosquito bites

  • Apply ice for a few minutes at a time to reduce swelling and itchiness.
  • Rub bites with a little tea tree or peppermint oil. You can use essential oils sparingly or in a product like Nature's First Aid Herbal Skin Lotion.
  • Apply an anti-histamine cream. These are readily available in pharmacies and some supermarkets.
  • Take oral anti-histamines.
  • Very common in asian countries is the use of a liniment oil or balm such as Tiger Balm.

Common home remedies for mosquito bites

Aloe vera plant for mosquito bitesThere are also a wide range of home remedies for getting relief from insect bites. While some might work better than others, they’re all generally harmless when applied to unbroken skin so you may want to experiment to find what works best for you.

  • Press a wet tea bag on the bite for a few minutes. Tannins in the tea can help draw out toxins.
  • Apply aloe vera gel - fresh from the plant or bought in the bottle, just rub a little on the skin.
  • Rub a few drops of vinegar onto the bite to neutralise the pH of the inflamed area.
  • Make a paste from baking soda and a little water and apply to the bite until it dries.
  • Rub a slice of lemon or lime onto the skin. 
  • Apply a crushed garlic to the bite and wipe off after 5 minutes.

Caring for mosquito bites

It’s important to stop insect bites getting infected. Usually they will disappear on their own after a few days but in the meantime you should:

  • Check them every day - especially if the swelling or redness is spreading.
  • Bathe them in cold water every day. Using warm water may make them itch even more!
  • Cover them with a plaster or dressing if they blister or weep but make sure to change the plaster regularly.
  • Keep your fingernails short and clean and wash your hands thoroughly.

Infected mosquito bites

Insect bites can become infected and in some cases lead to cellulitis, so make sure you pay attention for signs of infection. These include:

  • Redness and swelling spreads over time.
  • The bite is painful to touch.
  • Pus or milky discharge from the bite.
  • Swelling of lymph nodes.
  • Fever and general feeling of sickness.

If you notice any of these symptoms or the bite hasn’t disappeared after two weeks you should consider seeing your doctor. Insect bites near the eyes should be monitored closely for signs of infection. Ocular cellulitis can cause blindness or meningitis so should be treated seriously and with urgency.

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