It's summertime, and the bugs are biting
Mosquito bites are part of summer. The days are longer and we stay out later, often leaving ourselves vulnerable to bug bites. Interestingly, even though it feels like mosquitoes bite, they don’t.
Mosquitoes pierce your skin with a long pointy mouthpart called a proboscis, which contains two tubes. Using the heat sensors on their antennae and around their mouthparts, female mosquitos are able to locate blood vessels and tap into them with their proboscis, which both injects saliva and draws blood. Interesting fact: female mosquitos use our blood to reproduce.
Mosquito saliva has enzymes in it. When injected into humans it does two things:
- Acts as a painkiller (so we don’t notice the initial bite).
- Thins the blood so it does not clot.
Our bodies notice the enzymes and react as if it were an infection, and begin producing antibodies. Antibodies trigger histamine production. Histamine makes your blood vessels bigger so more blood and helper cells can get to the site to try and fix it. Histamine also makes the spot swollen and itchy. The result is a swollen red bump called a “wheal.”
Mosquitos are attracted to heat, as well as carbon dioxide and octenol, which are found in our breath and sweat. If you are a mosquito magnet like me and unfortunate enough to be the recipient of regular mosquito “bites,” here are a few suggestions for how to decrease the swelling and itchiness:
- Hydrocortisone cream or ointment — decreases itch
- Ice packs — decreases swelling, numbs the skin to decrease discomfort
- Ibuprofen — decreases swelling
- Damp green tea bag — helps decrease inflammation
- Oral antihistamines like Claritin, Zyrtec, and Benadryl decrease histamine, thus decreasing swelling and itch.
- Do NOT scratch. You do not want to break the skin and increase risk of infection. Scratching also creates more itch.
Not everyone has the same reaction severity. Children tend to be especially reactive, while some people are almost immune to mosquito serum. In some cases, severe reactions can occur, especially if you have been bitten or stung many times by the same insects.
It is so important to pay attention to your symptoms. If you are experiencing fatigue, headache, fever, body aches, rash, facial swelling or difficulty breathing/swallowing after an insect bite, please see a health care provider immediately.
Meighan Blanco, MSN, FNP-BC
310 Maple Ave
Barrington, RI, 02806