Each year millions of us have the not so enjoyable experience of getting bitten by a mosquito, especially during the summer months almost everywhere! Are there more mosquitos or more of us getting bitten? Yup, according to a recent study which found a three fold increase in bites over the past decade or so? This could be just another effect of global warming.
What is the reason why some of us experience a larger reaction (increased area of swelling and redness at the bite site) vs. those who seem to have pretty low key reactions? The answer may be in whether or not you are sensitive to the proteins present in the insect's saliva; hence you are allergic to mosquito bites!
There are a variety of reactions mosquito bites may cause, varying from a small amount of redness, swelling and itchiness, all the way up to those who experience extensive redness and swelling. Rarely, a full blown generalized allergic reaction (Skeeter's syndrome) can be seen as well. In fact one of my patients recently required emergency department treatment, including intravenous medication for a severe reaction to her bites.
Get tested for mosquito allergy!
Recently, I have begun performing an in-office, quick, simple skin test to determine if you are truly "allergic" or sensitive to mosquitoes. Always consult with your health care provider if you experience large generalized reactions after getting bitten by a mosquito, or another insect. Evaluation is mandatory for those who have experienced a generalized allergic type reaction to any biting, or stinging insect. Be prepared if you seem to get lots of bad mosquito bites. Have a mosquito bite treatment plan in place.
An ounce of prevention is worth a lot.
That means defensive measures really work and may give you a leg up in avoiding "the bite!" First, those who smell nice (use scented products) and sweat a lot may be more attractive to mosquitoes. Second, prime biting times are usually dawn and dusk. Third, wearing long sleeves and pants (tucked in to shoes) reduces exposed areas, particularly if you will be hiking or walking in a wooded area.
How to repel
There is a variety of DEET-containing insect repellent products ranging from a concentration of 5-10 percent, all the way up to 30-40 percent. The strength of the DEET will dictate how long (hours) you may remain "bite-free." Alternatively, natural (eucalyptus oils, etc) insect repellent products are available. Use these products as directed on the label.
Now if you are unlucky and get bitten, bite treatment can provide significant relief. Cleaning the area of the bite is essential, and using an over the counter or a prescription strength steroid cream will reduce itch and localized discomfort. Remember, a cool ice compress will also reduce swelling.
Hope this helps to keep you bite free, and take the "sting" out of summer!
Dr. Clifford Bassett is an adult and pediatric allergy specialist, and diplomate of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. He is the medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY. Bassett is a clinical assistant professor of medicine and on the teaching faculty of NYU School of Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center, and faculty at Cornell University Medical College. Follow him on Twitter.