How To Stop the Itching From Mosquito Bites

There are tried-and-true mosquito bite treatments that can relieve itch fast—and some that won't.

When backyard barbecues, family picnics, and lakeside hangouts are underway, it's only a matter of time before relentlessly itchy red spots start to pop up (if they haven't already) from mosquito bites. Naturally, once you get bit, you'll want to know how to make the mosquito bites stop itching.

If the overwhelming urge to scratch at a cluster of mosquito bites is disrupting your plans, there are a slew of different treatments and home remedies you could try to help relieve your itch. Some are backed by science—others not so much.

Here, learn why the itch from mosquito bites itch so much, which treatments actually work, and how to keep the insects away all summer long, with expert insight from healthcare providers.

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Why Do Mosquito Bites Itch?

When a mosquito latches on to suck your blood, it leaves behind a little saliva that contains proteins your body registers as unwanted intruders. Reactions to mosquito bites are caused by your immune system's response to these proteins, Kelly Maples, MD, chair of the Dermatology Committee for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, told Health.

In order to protect you, your body releases compounds known as histamines. As they mount their defense, they also trigger itchiness, inflammation, and swelling.

"It's normal to have a mild reaction to mosquito bites with redness about twenty minutes after the bite, followed by an itchy, firm bump that forms over the next day or two," Dr. Maples said. Mosquito bites can be particularly itchy for children, people who haven't been bitten by a certain species of the mosquito before, or those living with immune system disorders, according to the CDC.

However, severe allergic reactions (known as anaphylaxis or "skeeter syndrome") to mosquito bites are very rare, Dr. Maples said. According to MedlinePlus, signs that indicate you should seek emergency medical care immediately include hives, swelling and redness beyond the bite site, and trouble breathing.

Otherwise, mosquito bites can be especially itchy based on how we respond to them. As annoying as they can be, it's best to avoid rubbing or scratching at them, which only makes the itch worse, Payel Gupta, MD, a board-certified allergist and immunologist and co-founder of Cleared, a teleallergy platform, told Health.

While it might feel good at first, scratching at bites damages your skin which triggers the release of more histamines—and the itchiness that comes with them. You could also increase your risk of infection by opening yourself up to bacteria in your environment and underneath your nails, Dr. Gupta said.

So, how can you finally break the itch-scratch cycle and let those bites heal? Start with mosquito bite treatments you can count on.

What Are Some Doctor-Approved Mosquito Bite Treatments?

"Cool compresses, over-the-counter oral antihistamines, and topical corticosteroids like hydrocortisone cream can help ease reactions to mosquito bites by blocking histamine and other mediators of allergic reactions," Dr. Maples said—though there are other home remedies that may help as well.

Ice the Itch Away

"Cold exposure can help numb the area and calm down any inflammation so you don't feel the irritation from bites as much," Dr. Gupta said. You can use an ice pack to relieve itching, per the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).

Lather on Anti-Itch Creams

Another option is to apply an over-the-counter calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream according to the label instructions. Look for ointments that contain lidocaine or benzocaine for an additional numbing effect, said Anna Guanche, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Bella Skin Institute in Calabasas, CA.

But talk to your healthcare provider before using hydrocortisone products on young children as they could cause side effects such as delayed growth and weight gain, according to MedlinePlus.

Take Antihistamines

For speedy relief from lots of must-scratch bites, try a non-drowsy, over-the-counter antihistamine like Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine), or Claritin (loratadine). "Antihistamines block histamine receptors to reduce the intensity of the itching and the welting and swelling associated with bites," Dr. Guanche explained.

Apply Rubbing Alcohol

Dab some rubbing alcohol on bites if you're looking for quick, temporary relief, Dr. Guanche suggested. Because it rapidly evaporates, rubbing alcohol could have a short-term cooling effect which may help relieve itchiness. Too much alcohol can be irritating or burn, though, so only use a little.

Try Lemon Balm Cream

For a time-honored herbal remedy, try applying a cream that contains lemon balm essential oils to bites. "Compounds in lemon balm essential oils can help ease inflammation, speed up healing, and reduce the risk of infection," Dr. Guanche said. However, talk to a healthcare provider to make sure it's safe and determine the proper dosage to use if you're pregnant, breastfeeding, or treating a child.

Within a few days, you should feel better. But if you give these a try and your mosquito bites look worse or just won't stop itching, the AAD recommends that you see a healthcare provider for additional treatment.

Which Mosquito Bite Treatments Should You Skip?

Despite old wives' tales or other beneficial properties, the healthcare providers we spoke with say these remedies aren't worth your time when it comes to easing itchy mosquito bites:

  • Honey
  • Oatmeal baths
  • Aloe vera
  • Basil
  • Garlic
  • Baking soda
  • Lemon or lime juice
  • Toothpaste
  • Vinegar

While some home remedies for mosquito bites such as honey, oatmeal, and aloe vera could help dial down inflamed skin, they're not nearly as effective in the anti-itch department compared to other mosquito bite treatments, Susan Bard, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, told Health. Others like garlic and baking soda could also cause effects you definitely don't want like skin irritation, dryness, and burns, Dr. Bard noted.

How Can You Prevent Mosquito Bites?

Usually, it only takes one bad cluster of mosquito bites to remind you that prevention is the best medicine. Here are a few ways to reduce your risk of being bitten by mosquitoes from the CDC.

Spray Away

Use an insect repellent approved by the Environmental Protection Agency such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. For children, avoid OLE or PMD products, opt for DEET 30% or lower, and avoid using repellent on infants below the age of 2 months.

Cover Up

Wear long sleeves and pants or treat your threads with permethrin spray specially formulated for clothing, which irritates biters on contact. (Of note, permethrin spray should not be used directly on the skin per the CDC.)

Pour Out Standing Water

Regularly turn over water collectors (hot spots for mosquito eggs) in your yards—such as bird baths, buckets, trash cans, and flower pots. The CDC also recommended that you make sure to cover water storage containers (e.g., buckets and cisterns) so that mosquitoes cannot get into them.

Hang Mosquito Nets

Surround outdoor hangout areas, strollers, and baby carriers with mosquito netting to keep bugs out, and patch up holes in screens on doors and windows.

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