Mosquitoes buzzing and biting are a part of life we’d like to avoid. No matter how hard you try, you always end up with a few bites when you go outside in the summer. Or even worse, you’re a mosquito magnet and get chewed up in bed during hot summer nights.
Some of us are especially unlucky. They suffer from badly infected mosquito bites. Fingers swollen like sausages, blisters the size of tennis balls and painful itching are a true ordeal.
A safe but frustrating bet would be to stay inside and avoid getting eaten alive. A more realistic approach is to know how to treat the bumps and itch once you’re bitten.
Keep in mind that, aside from anaphylaxis and atopic eczema flare-ups, in most people, mosquito bites symptoms commonly fade on their own and many experts recommend no treatment at all.
If you do want a remedy, the best way to treat your bites is by dealing with the inflammation and irritation.
The itch and inflammation from mosquito bites is caused by the mosquito’s saliva that may provoke an immune response.
It contains a fluid that prevents blood from clotting. This substance, also referred to as anticoagulant gets injected into your skin while the mosquito is slurping your blood. More on
The 2 best mosquito bite relief tips
1. Generally recommended by experts; wash mosquito bites with water and mild soap right after you or a family member has been bitten by a mosquito.
The chemicals and fats in soap eliminate some of the proteins and anti-clotting agents in the mosquito’s saliva that cause redness, swelling and itching. Soap also dries out the bite and washing also helps avoid secondary infection.
Wanna catch two birds in one stone? Use eucalyptus soap to repel the buggers at the same time.
2. Ice is nice because it’s safe and works. Press ice cubes to the affected area for several minutes at a time. This popular method works for many people. Symptoms subside, redness, itch, and swelling or hives are reduced fairly quickly.
Commercial creams, lotions, sticks and ointments
Most over-the-counter or prescription creams gels or lotions contain ingredients such as lidocaine, hydrocortisone, or pramoxine to reduce pain and itch. Other products contain soothing baking soda or colloidal oatmeal.
Antihistamine cream / sticks such as Benadryl Cream belong to the most popular remedies. They may help soothe the small localized reaction caused by the bite. However,
Topical antihistamines are generally not recommended as they’re only marginally effective and shouldn’t be used for longer than three days.
Topical anesthetics offer quick temporary relief. Hydrocortisone cream 1% reduces itching redness and swelling. They may have a numbing effect on the affected area.
Prescription Pramegel or the over-the-counter Caladryl are topical anesthetics containing pramoxine.
Topical anesthetics (i.e. lidocaine) are only somewhat effective and can sensitize the skin, causing more itch instead of less.
Corticosteroids come in various strengths and are applied several times a day until symptoms subside.
They can reduce inflammation and relieve itchiness but sometimes a stronger prescription topical corticosteroid is needed. Sometimes, reactions to mosquito bites can be so severe that systemic steroids are prescribed.
Hydrocortisone and other topical steroids are not supposed to be used on broken skin which is very common after you’ve been scratching.
Other commercial anti itch creams
Calamine lotion contains zinc oxide which has antiseptic properties known to prevent infection from scratching. Calamine lotion has a long-lasting effect making it a popular choice for children. The Food and Drug Administration notes that calamine lotion is not an effective itch cure yet it’s still commonly recommended by doctors.
Sarna menthol lotion helps get rid of itch and pain.
Preparation H, known mainly as a product that relieves hemorrhoids, may also help relieve your itchy mosquito bumps. Hemorrhoids are actually quite similar to mosquito bites in some ways. Both cause inflammation and irritation that is readily relieved by the Preparation H.
- Just stick to the cream or pads, the suppositories won’t help much, unless you’ve been bitten in a very unusual location.
Aspirin paste is also quite good at eliminating inflammation. You can crush aspirin and add it to some oil or water to create a paste you can apply directly to the bites.
More itch relief products used on mosquito bites:
- Vicks VapoRub contains soothing camphor and menthol oils.
- Lucas Papaw Ointment
- Tiger Balm / Bag Balm
- Gold Bond Medicated Cream (or the Gold Bond Medicated Powder)
- Burt’s Bees Bug Bite Relief
- After Bite
- Solarcaine has lots of lidocaine in it.
- Mylanta (heartburn relief product)
- Chloraseptic works well for some people. Spray it on or apply it with a Q-tip or cotton ball for instant relief.
What does the research say?
Studies show: often, these creams don’t help.
Recent research suggests that many popular over-the-counter creams don’t work to relieve itching and burning sensations.
A study published in the journal Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin concludes that there’s little evidence that steroid creams or antihistamine tablets reduce itch.
The researchers found that ointments containing lidocaine or benzocaine, or that are combined with antihistamines or antiseptics, only sometimes help.
“There is little direct evidence for the efficacy of treatments for simple insect bites. Guidelines are generally based on expert opinion. The symptoms are often self-limiting, and in many cases no treatment may be needed.”
The researchers recommend the following treatment in case of bug bites. Apply a cold compress to manage the itching, pain, and swelling. Take oral analgesics for pain (in some people, mosquito bites can really hurt), and apply a mild corticosteroid cream applied to reduce inflammation and itching.
If your mosquito bite really swells up and becomes a big welt you can benefit from taking an oral antihistamine.
Oral antihistamines, for large local reactions such as severe hives or itching, come in;
- non-sedating antihistamines which are commonly taken during the day
- as well as sedating antihistamines which can be of use at night if sleep is disturbed.
When choosing a brand, especially for kids, consider strength and drowsy side effects vs no side effects.
A fairly new, over-the-counter antihistamine is Zyrtec which is reported to work very well while not being as sedating as some other products. Other brand names include Allegra, Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton.
Oral antihistamines can be taken to offer relief for severe itch or hives (provided you don’t have a drug allergy).
- How do they work? Antihistamines counter the, by your immune system’s influenced histamine release, during an allergic reaction.
What do studies say?
A few small double-blind studies suggest that oral antihistamines help reduce immediate reactions that cause itching but don’t do much against delayed reactions to bites.
- The researchers tested loratadine, prophylactic levocetirizine (Xyzal), cetirizine (Zyrtec, Alleroff, Aller-Tec), and ebastine (not available in the U.S.).
Oral pain relievers
Ibuprofen (Motrin IB or Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) are other anti over the counter anti-inflammatory medications that can reduce redness, pain, itching, swelling and fever.
Natural mosquito bite remedies
Studies indicate that some botanical anti-inflammatory substances are very effective in offering mosquito bite relief in some people.
Apply these dabs as soon as possible directly on the mosquito bite. The sooner you are dabbing, the faster the relief.
Papaverine (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 13:806, 1985) and oral evening primrose oil (Lancet, 2:1120, 1982) are specifically mentioned by researchers.
Aloe vera, the popular sun burn relief agent, is known for its abundant skin care qualities. It helps to relieve inflammation, which aids in itch relief.
- Break off an aloe vera leaf, rub its gel on the welt. Cools and soothes the itch. Use a commercial aloe gel product if you don’t grow aloe vera at home. For a double dose of relief, place the aloe vera in the refrigerator before applying. The cold helps to relieve the itchiness of the mosquito bites.
The simplest anti-itching compound is a paste made of baking soda and water. Use just enough water to make a sticky paste, and spread it on. Baking soda is alkaline which is why it can reduce itch and help neutralize the pH of an infected area.
Press a used, damp tea bag to the affected skin. The tannins present in tea act as an astringent. They draw toxins out of your skin. Apply a cold green tea bag (cooled in the fridge/freezer) for extra relief.
Strong black tea mixed with rubbing alcohol or rubbing alcohol are popular remedies too.
Make a paste from witch hazel and baking soda. Apply and leave on for about 15 minutes.
Swab some apple cider vinegar on the bite or add a few cups to your bath. It helps balance the pH if the bite is infected. Apple cider vinegar is a bit less acidic compared to other vinegars.
A popular all-natural choice are creams with chamomile, turmeric, or peppermint as active ingredients.
Leaf applications. Apply crushed fresh leaves of basil, jewelweed, chickweed, or plantains (plantago) or make a peppermint poultice.
Mash the leaves with a mortar and pestle or chew them (some folks claim that human saliva is a natural skeeter bite reliever too). Apply the peppermint leaves paste for soothing, cooling relief.
Be careful with applying full strength essential oils as they may cause skin irritation on delicate skin. Also be cautious with repeated use of pure essential oils on children.
Tea tree oil is widely recognized for its antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Reddit user aus_shredder claims it helps to get rid of the itch following a mosquito bite instantly.
Do keep in mind that pure tea tree oil is harsh and depending on how sensitive your skin is you may want to to dilute it.
Topical application of (diluted) peppermint, lemon, cedar and lavender oil are also popular mosquito bite remedies.
The biggest problem derived from scratching one’s itch is the threat of infections.
Use physical distraction
Also called counter irritants, these methods work by sensory overload. Instead of sending feelings of being itchy, the nerves in your skin will send pain signals that are much easier for your brain to ignore. By adding discomfort, the nerve won’t react anymore.
Press an X on the bite
One of the most common home remedies for mosquito bite relief is pressing an X into your mosquito bites with the edge of your fingernail.
While this doesn’t do anything for the inflammation, the pain caused by the X pressed into your skin can provide a much needed distraction from the itchiness.
- The drawing an X inside the welt with your finger method is basically a milder, less harmful form of scratching.
The much-debated hot spoon method
Some people swear by applying a hot spoon to their mosquito bites. Supposedly, heating up your spoon in a cup of coffee or tea provides significant heat to help break up some of the proteins that cause the irritation.
Conventional relief, the cold pack
Rather than applying heat, you may opt for the opposite, using a cold ice pack. Cooling down your mosquito bites will help to relieve swelling and inflammation, providing some relief. The cold temperatures will also numb the mosquito bites a bit, making them more bearable.
- How to use? For a cool compress, wrap an ice pack in a towel or put a soaked washcloth in the freezer for a while and press it on the bite.
A science-backed counter irritant is ammonia. Dab with it to eliminate itch. One trial found household ammonia to partially relieve itching, burning, or painful mosquito bites for up to 90 minutes in all treated patients, whereas a placebo did not offer relief.
Dip a cotton swab or small cloth or moisten the tip of your finger with a little household bleach and dab the area. It neutralizes the mosquito bite toxins immediately.
More Dabbing Remedies
- Toothpaste may help soothe your itchy mosquito bumps. This will definitely dry out your skin, but it can’t remove the anticoagulating fluid mosquitoes inject in your skin to draw out blood. Toothpast does contain baking soda and menthol and has anti-inflammatory properties. Toothpaste may work for some but other people report having serious reactions to it ending up with burn-like spots.
- Mouthwash is an astringent, thus soothes and claimed to draw itchy venom from bug bites.
- Rubbing honey on your itchy skin is claimed to help your itching. Dr. Oz says a dab of honey soothes skin because it is a natural antibiotic. Honey helps prevent infections when you’ve scratched the bite open.However, the sweet scent may actually attract more mosquitoes and other bugs to your skin.
- The same goes for banana peel.
- Underarm deodorants often contains aluminum chloride salts which can help absorb the anticoagulant fluid from the mosquito’s saliva.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what can provide relief from mosquito bites. It’s likely that some of the methods described below may work for you, but only because of the placebo effect.
Still, what does not work for most people may work for you. If only for the placebo effect. Which, after all, is a powerful effect. Being convinced it works may be all you need.
Electricity: A Stunning bug bite remedy
Batteries neutralize venom
If you have any friends or family in the military, odds are they’ve claimed that electricity from batteries can help relieve itching and irritation. Stunning but true, batteries can be used to help deactivate venom from a snake, bee, or spider bite.
Wet the bite and rub a 9-volt battery against it. Your saliva increases conductivity and the electric current deactivates the venom.
Batteries offer mosquito bite relief
Similarly, a 9 volt battery is a popular way to soothe your itchy mosquito terrorized skin too. In fact, using low voltage electricity is a science-backed method that can also remove venom from your skin.
“Direct electric current from low voltage showed neutralizing properties against venom phospholipase A2 and metalloproteases.” PubMed.
Gadgets that do the same
Instead of a battery you could also use the Therapik Mosquito Bite Reliever. This clinically proven gadget doesn’t look like a highly effective bug bite soother but it really works.
The 13 bucks costing, plasticky bug-bite zapper is actually pretty effective. It works by heating up the mosquito or other type of bug bite, thus breaking down the venom’s proteins. As a result the swelling and itch fade.
- How to use? Put the Therapik tip on the welt, press and hold down the button, hold it there for as long as you can take it (after 30 seconds it can burn pretty intensely) for up to a minute.
- On mosquito bites it stops itching within a few seconds after taking it off and it keeps the bites from itching ever again.
Another gadget using the same technology. Use the Zap-it by clicking for about 5 to 10 times and the itch is gone. The sooner you zap after being bitten, the more efficient it is.
Miscellaneous mosquito bite relief remedies
Some people swear by applying a mixture of water and garlic salt. You will experience a burning sensation for about 5 seconds but then you’re cured. Others prefer rubbing a sliced garlic clove on their bites. Avoid application directly on an open site or when you have sensitive skin as it can cause severe burning and stinging.
Meat tenderizer containing papain is said to break down the proteins found in the mosquito saliva, which will help reduce the symptoms your immune system produces.
Because they over-stimulate nerves, topical use of peppers or creams containing capsaicin, the substance that makes spicy foods hot, are also said to reduce itch. A few trials seem to support this claim. More here, can peppers reduce itch?
If you can reach it, try licking your skeeter bite. According to some it’s a proven remedy that neutralizes the mosquito’s saliva. You can also wet your finger with your saliva and rub it into the bite after which you let it air dry. Repeat a few times within the first 10 minutes.
How to prevent mosquito bite infection
Infection is a real threat when dealing with itchy skin. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, only to realize you had scratched your skin raw from a patch of mosquito bites?
Scratching your skin raw isn’t just a risk for infection. It can also lead to scarring. Using antiseptics can help keep your skin clean and infection free.
Some of the most popular antiseptics include things like rubbing alcohol, witch hazel and tea tree oil. The sting from the alcohol and the cooling from evaporation will also provide a well needed distraction and some relief from the itchiness.
Another all-natural and proven effective antiseptic is Medihoney cream.
Hand sanitizers work well too. They are great antiseptics and usually include a high concentration of alcohol. You can rub the hand sanitizer on your bites, and also on your fingers, to help prevent bacteria from being scratched into the bites.
Cover the bite
A good way to eliminate the risk of infection is to cover your bites. Especially if you’ve a tendency to scratch your skin open with dirty fingernails. You can cover the bites by applying some nail polish, scotch tape, or a band aid. If you can’t touch your bites, you won’t be able to scratch them, so they will heal much more quickly.
Some people remove the tape immediately after applying, claiming it helps remove some of the proteins in the saliva that trigger the mild immune system reaction.
- Simple, non-problematic insect bites do not require antibacterial treatment. When you suffer from a secondary infection you will probably need to take an oral antibacterial agent in accordance with your doctor’s guidelines.
Be aware of skeeter syndrome
Be able to recognize Skeeter Syndrome. It’s an uncommon, severe form of mosquito allergy that occurs hours to a few days after bites.
It’s characterized by fever, bruising, swelling that may extend the bite area, numerous hives, red bumps and occasional blisters.
Skeeter Syndrome is a rare condition that commonly affects children since they haven’t developed immunity to mosquito saliva. Treatment may require antihistamines, oral corticosteroids, and medical attention.
And West Nile Virus
The Colonies of culex modestus mosquito species that can spread the West Nile virus in one bite and was responsible for 286 deaths in America in 2012 has been found living close to London too.
The deadly disease transmitting mosquito can cause meningitis which is recognized by flu-like symptoms that last several days, and in serious cases can cause swelling of the brain and spinal cord.
The best way to deal with your bites is to soothe the inflammation, find a physical distraction, then cover them so they can heal without getting infected.
What works for some may not work for others but home remedies galore which can help you find relief.
Despite the opinion of researchers who claim that mosquito bite symptoms are self-limiting it’s important to find relief.
Relief means no scratching, no open skin, no scratched sores, ugly bumps and subsequent infections. Also no being kept awake because of that dreadful itch.
How do you fight the urge to scratch?
Which treatment works best for you? Let us know your tips in the comments below.
Some mosquito control tips:
An ounce of prevention is…, well you know. Keep the little bloodsuckers away by using a handheld bug zapper, by getting the best bug zapper you can get, by mosquito-proofing your yard and by keeping your home skeeter-free.