What Is Skeeter Syndrome?

Skeeter syndromes happens when the body reacts to mosquito bites with severe redness, swelling, and itching.

Mosquito bites are already bothersome for most people, but skeeter syndrome can take it to the next level. Skeeter syndrome is a particularly intense reaction to a mosquito bite—including swelling, soreness, redness, itching, and pain at the location of the bite.

Symptoms can start hours and last weeks after receiving the mosquito bite. Skeeter syndrome increases the risk of infection since it can be hard to resist itching.

Mosquito bite skeeter syndrome
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Skeeter Syndrome Symptoms

Skeeter syndrome is different than a normal reaction to a mosquito bite. Typically, skeeter syndrome includes symptoms such as:

  • Severe swelling
  • Redness or any other changes in skin color
  • Changes in skin texture or temperature (e.g., hardness or heat at the site of the bite)
  • Itching
  • Pain or soreness

Some evidence describes how severe those reactions can be. For example, faces puff up, eyes swell shut, and entire limbs become red and swollen. In some of the most extreme cases, mosquito bites can cause bruising and blistering. Some people can develop a fever, vomiting, or difficulty breathing, according to one study published in 2015.

"The good news is it's not as dangerous as allergies to bees and wasps," Purvi S. Parikh, MD, an infectious disease allergist and immunologist at NYU Langone Health, told Health. "Those insect allergies can be deadly, and people need to carry EpiPens with them in case they go into anaphylaxis. Fortunately, we haven't seen any cases of skeeter syndrome that are that severe."

What Causes Skeeter Syndrome?

Skeeter syndrome is an allergic reaction to the proteins found in the saliva of mosquitos. Male mosquitos do not bite humans, so skeeter syndrome happens due to female mosquitos' bites.

Female mosquitos produce eggs by biting the skin and feeding on blood. They also transfer some of their salivae into the skin in the process. The saliva often causes itchy bumps, which are mosquito bites. People with skeeter syndrome have more severe reactions to saliva than others.

"Most people get some type of reaction—a small bump and a little redness—but for some people, it's really extreme," explained Dr. Parikh.

People with intense reactions tend to develop them within minutes to hours of being bitten. People rarely seek treatment for skeeter syndrome, so healthcare providers do not know how many people get it.

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop skeeter syndrome. Still, some people have a higher risk than others, such as:

  • Infants
  • Young children
  • Those who previously have not had many mosquito bites or come into contact with a new mosquito species
  • Those with weak immune systems

People with skeeter syndrome do not necessarily attract mosquitoes more than others, added Dr. Parikh. Instead, they have severe reactions when mosquitos bite them.

How Is Skeeter Syndrome Diagnosed?

Healthcare providers can typically diagnose skeeter syndrome by looking at the mosquito bite for signs of a severe reaction.

No blood tests definitively determine skeeter syndrome. Instead, a healthcare provider may ask questions to decide whether you have skeeter syndrome. For instance, they may ask whether you have a history of severe reactions to mosquito bites or if you have recently traveled to where there may be different mosquito species.

"An allergist can diagnose it with a skin test in the office, but we can usually diagnose it clinically, as well," said Dr. Parikh. "If someone comes in and their entire arm is swollen and red from a mosquito bite, it can be pretty obvious."

Treatments for Skeeter Syndrome

Treatments for skeeter syndrome might include: 

  • Taking an oral antihistamine
  • Applying hydrocortisone cream to the mosquito bite
  • Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat any pain or a fever

"Applying ice or a cold compress can help, too, because sometimes the bites get really red and hot and angry-looking," explained Dr. Parikh. For the most extreme cases, there may be a more permanent solution.

"Here, in our practice, we do have one or two patients that get it so badly that they're getting desensitized through allergy shots, the same way they would for dust or mold," added Dr. Parikh.

For most people, allergy shots may not be necessary. Skeeter syndrome is rare and not life-threatening.

How To Prevent Skeeter Syndrome

One of the best ways to prevent skeeter syndrome is to prevent mosquito bites in the first place. Even if you do not develop skeeter syndrome, mosquito bites can be pesky annoyances. 

Steps you can take to prevent mosquito bites include:

  • Use insect repellants.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to protect exposed skin from mosquitos.
  • Treat clothes using 0.5% permethrin, which is an insecticide.
  • Use mosquito nets if you travel to a place without air conditioning or if you are sleeping outside.
  • Empty containers that hold water, like buckets and plant pots, weekly.

"It's easier to avoid bites in the first place with careful planning," noted Dr. Parikh. "Carry medications with you that can help provide some relief."

Skeeter Syndrome vs. Skin Infections

Telling the difference between skeeter syndrome and skin infections can be challenging. Both cause redness, swelling, and pain caused by bug bites. 

Still, you may be able to differentiate between skeeter syndrome and skin infections. For example, skeeter syndrome develops right away. In contrast, skin infections generally happen several days after a bite or injury.

Though, people with skeeter syndrome have a higher risk for skin infections than others, noted Dr. Parikh. They are more likely to scratch their bites and have large wounds that take a long time to heal. 

Consult a healthcare provider to rule out a skin infection if you develop a fever after a mosquito bite or if the bite worsens.

A Quick Review

Skeeter syndrome is an extreme reaction to a mosquito bite. You may develop a blister, severe swelling, redness, or heat at the bite site. Skeeter syndrome is rare and not life-threatening. Most people can treat skeeter syndrome at home with topical creams and antihistamines. 

You may need to get allergy shots if skeeter syndrome happens frequently. In the meantime, one of the best ways to prevent skeeter syndrome is to avoid mosquito bites in the first place.

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5 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Skeeter syndrome defined.

  2. Pérez-Vanzzini R, González-Díaz SN, Arias-Cruz A, et al. Hipersensibilidad a la picadura de mosquito manifestada como síndrome de Skeeter [Hypersensitivity to mosquito bite manifested as Skeeter syndrome]Rev Alerg Mex. 2015;62(1):83-87.

  3. Vander Does A, Labib A, Yosipovitch G. Update on mosquito bite reaction: Itch and hypersensitivity, pathophysiology, prevention, and treatmentFront Immunol. 2022;13:1024559. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2022.1024559

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mosquito bite symptoms and treatment.

  5. Skeeter syndrome—an uncommon insect bite reactionJournal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2015;72(5):AB80. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.02.329

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