How to Prevent and Treat Mosquito Bites
Welcome to summer...barbecues, burgers, and bites! Are you the person who gets eaten alive by mosquitoes? According to University of Florida researchers, mosquitoes have preferences, so if you think they like you way better than they like other people, you're probably right.
There’s plenty of advice around about how to keep safe from mosquitoes: Spray your yard with garlic or vegetable oil. Clean out your rain gutters. Get rid of old tires.
But what if your gutters are clear and downspouts bone dry but your neighbor has a small plantation growing in his rain gutters? While you can’t bubble-wrap your yard to protect it, there are plenty of other ways of making your yard a ‘no-fly’ zone.
There are a number of approaches you can take to stop mosquitoes biting, from the simple to the sophisticated:
First, don’t advertise that you’re a free meal to mosquitoes. Mosquitoes care about getting some protein (your blood) via your flesh, especially if you’re a mosquito magnet!
Mosquitoes have well documented color preferences, so wear light colors as opposed to dark and make it as tough for them as you can.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants whenever possible
- Wear shoes and socks instead of sandals
- Wear a hat to keep mosquito bites off the warm, top part of your head
Mosquitoes are now going to go for any exposed skin; ears, neck, wrists! If you must have bare legs and arms, beware as they’ll happily munch there, so you’re going to need some added personal protection.
Repellents That Work
The USDA developed DEET in the l940s for use by the military, and it was registered for public use in l957. Since then it’s been used billions of times with fewer than 50 reported cases of serious side effects and is still considered the most effective repellent on the market. However recent studies suggest that mosquitoes can now inherit tolerance to DEET. According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (May 2010), the trait that makes some mosquitoes tolerate one of the most effective repellents available is dominant and can be passed on to more than 50% of offspring in a single generation.
Fortunately there are DEET-free alternatives. In 2005, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began recommending Picaridin as an alternative repellent. Proven to be as effective as DEET, it has been used worldwide since 1998. Light, clean, and virtually odorless, it has been recommended by the World Health Organization for use in malaria-stricken countries. The CDC also recommends repellents containing OLE (oil of lemon eucalyptus) and IR3535 (which is in Avon Skin So Soft).
Savvy folks have been planting geraniums in their window boxes for generations, using the natural properties of the flowers to repel bugs. Today, hard data exists that proves that the use of geraniums is more than a tradition. According to University of Florida researchers, geraniol, a powerful ingredient extracted from geranium oil through a unique refining process, does indeed provide a natural and extremely effective insect repellent. Sold under the BugBand brand, there is a range of products including sprays, wipes, wristbands, and candles available.
You can also use repellents containing soybean oil, citronella, or lemon/eucalyptus formulations. But they don’t last as long as DEET so have to be reapplied more frequently.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is a plant-based repellent registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In two recent scientific publications, when oil of lemon eucalyptus was tested against mosquitoes found in the U.S. it provided protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET.
Citronella is another well-known natural mosquito repellent and in addition to lotions and sprays, the oils from the plant are extracted and used to make candles. Unlike a number of devices which are designed to attract then kill mosquitoes, citronella candles keep mosquitoes away. Place them in close proximity, on your patio, balcony or deck…just make sure to put the citronella candle upwind of you.
Candles are also pretty portable. So if you’re on the move, off to the beach or a picnic in the park, just pop one in the car or into your pocket or purse.
A University of Guelph study on the effectiveness of citronella candles found that subjects positioned near one had 42.3% less bites. They advised that citronella candles shouldn't be used as a stand-alone repellent, although they may help in combination with topical repellents.
However, while repellents do provide excellent personal protection, they don’t actually kill mosquitoes.
How to Kill Mosquitoes
The sound of mosquitoes grilling away on a bug zapper is wonderful to some, and distressing to others. Of course, it’s important to remember that your bug zapper will attract all kinds of insects, beneficial ones as well as pests.
Many other alternatives such as large-scale spraying can be temporarily effective, but they take a terrible toll on insect populations that keep our environment in balance.
Trap if You Can
There is one solution that doesn’t have an environmental downside: Mega-Catch™ mosquito traps. You can trap literally thousands in these mosquito machines without harming the environment, your children, or your pets. These remarkable traps are an affordable and effective solution for getting rid of mosquitoes on a large scale, for a long period of time.
Combining these tips with other sensible mosquito control strategies around your home, plus a mosquito trap or two should provide the best overall protection.
How to Treat Mosquito Bites
There are a lot of suggestions for soothing the discomfort of an allergic reaction to mosquito bites. Some are common sense, some medical, and some just a little odd, but they all have advocates who swear they work.
- Don’t scratch the bite. That only irritates your skin further and could lead to infection. Give it a light washing with soap and cool water.
- Zap-It! This is a nifty, pocket size device which has been clinically approved and tested in the most extreme conditions by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Clicking Zap-It! several times around the area of a bite has the effect of localizing the poison and inhibiting the histamine release which causes the itch and urge to scratch. Zap-It! uses no batteries or chemicals and is effective on up to 1000 bites.
- Bekoool™ medicated itch relief patches give fast-acting targeted relief from itching due to mosquito and other insect bites. Convenient, disposable, and easy to use, they are thin enough to wear under clothing.
- Calamine Lotion. The pink goo, a favorite of moms everywhere, is a mixture of zinc oxide and iron oxide and works as a cooling, all-purpose soother. The Food and Drug Administration declared in the early ’90s that it’s ineffective in treating itches, but doctors still recommend it. You might also try Caladryl, which contains both calamine and an analgesic to help relieve the sting.
- Aloe Vera Gel. Helpful to reduce swelling and itching, aloe vera also forms a protective layer, to reduce possible infection.
- Hydrocortisone Cream. These over the counter creams contain corticosteroids which will counteract the effect of the histamines and help reduce the swelling, which should give you some relief from the mosquito bite itch. An anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen will also help.
- Use a Cold Compress or Icepack. Histamines dilate the blood vessels, filling the affected area with excess blood. Cold causes the vessels to constrict, so that the amount of blood is reduced around the bite.
- Take an Antihistamine. This won’t work immediately, but an OTC medication like Benadryl will prevent histamines from binding with receptors at the blood vessels. The vessels in the bite area return to normal, and the swelling and itching dissipates. Remember, you can take an antihistamine before going outside to minimize your allergic reaction to a mosquito bite.
- Dab on Some Baking Soda Paste. For some reason, the Mayo Clinic doctors—and dozens of home-remedy advocates—suggest adding a bit of water to regular baking soda, then applying the paste to the mosquito bite. The reason isn’t clear, but it apparently helps relieve the itch.
- Treat With Heat. The protein that causes the itching is destroyed at around 40.5°C (that’s 105°F). Boil up a cup of warm coffee or tea and place that cup on your bite for about a minute or so. Theoretically the heat from the cup “neutralizes” the proteins that are the cause of that itching and swelling.
- Evening Primrose Oil. Dr. Alan Greene, pediatrician and prolific health writer, suggests that some natural anti-inflammatory remedies such as evening primrose oil may also help reduce the swelling and itching associated with mosquito bites.
These are some of the steps you can take in the hours immediately after a bite. But remember, if you start feeling sick, particularly if you feel flu-like symptoms that include neck stiffness, headache, nausea, and fever, then it’s possible that mosquito bite left you with something worse than just an itch. Don’t delay.... Go to the doctor.