Mosquito bites

Overview

Mosquito bites are the itchy bumps that form on the skin after mosquitoes feed on your blood. The bumps usually go away without treatment in a few days. Some mosquito bites may get very swollen, sore and inflamed. This type of reaction, sometimes called skeeter syndrome, is most common in children.

Mosquito bites can cause severe illnesses if the insects carry certain viruses or parasites. Infected mosquitoes can spread West Nile virus, Zika virus, and the viruses that cause malaria, yellow fever and some types of brain infection.

Symptoms

Mosquito bites often happen on parts of the body that aren't covered by clothing. Symptoms include:

  • An itchy, inflamed bump that forms a few minutes after a bite
  • A painful spot that looks like a hive and forms within 24 hours after a bite
  • Small blisters

A severe reaction to mosquito bites can cause:

  • A large, swollen, inflamed area
  • A hive-like rash
  • Swelling around the eyes

Children are more likely to have a severe reaction than are adults.

When to see a doctor

Contact your health care provider if the mosquito bites seem to occur with warning signs of a serious condition. These might include a high fever, severe headache, body aches and signs of infection.

Causes

Mosquito bites are caused by female mosquitoes feeding on your blood. As a biting mosquito fills itself with blood, it injects saliva into your skin. The saliva triggers an immune system reaction that results in the classic itching and bump.

Mosquitoes are attracted to smells, such as from sweat, floral scents and exhaled carbon dioxide.

Complications

Scratching bites can lead to infection.

Mosquitoes can carry the viruses that cause certain diseases, such as West Nile virus and the viruses that cause malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever. The mosquito gets a virus or parasite by biting an infected person or animal. Then when it's biting you, the mosquito can transfer that virus or parasite to you through its saliva. West Nile, dengue fever and some types of encephalitis occur in the United States. Other diseases, such as malaria and yellow fever, are far more common in tropical areas of the world.

Prevention

Mosquitos bite during both day and night, and they can live indoors. You can take several steps to protect yourself from mosquito bites.

Avoid and exclude mosquitoes

Limit exposure to mosquitoes by:

  • Repairing any tears in the screens on windows, doors and camping gear
  • Using mosquito netting over strollers and cribs
  • Using mosquito netting when sleeping outdoors
  • Selecting self-care products that don't have scents

Use insect repellent

Use insect repellent when mosquitoes are active. The most effective insect repellents in the United States include one of these active ingredients:

  • DEET
  • Icaridin, also called picaridin
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus
  • IR3535
  • Para-menthane-diol (PMD)
  • 2-Undecanone

These ingredients temporarily repel mosquitoes and ticks. DEET may offer longer lasting protection. Whichever product you choose, read the label before you apply it. If you're using a spray repellent, apply it outdoors and away from food. You may need to reapply it 6 to 8 hours later if you're still in an area where mosquitoes are active.

If you're also using sunscreen, put it on first, about 20 minutes before applying the repellent. Avoid products that have both sunscreen and repellent, because you'll likely need to reapply sunscreen more often than repellent. And it's best to use only as much repellent as you need and to wash your hands after applying it.

Used according to package directions, these products are generally safe for children and adults, with a few exceptions:

  • Don't use DEET-containing products on infants younger than 2 months.
  • Don't use icaridin on infants younger than 6 months
  • Check the labels of products with oil of lemon eucalyptus — some aren't suitable for children under 3 years old.
  • Don't use para-menthane-diol on children under 3 years old
  • Don't let young children get insect repellent on their hands, as they might get it in their mouths.
  • Don't apply repellent near the eyes and mouth.
  • Don't apply repellent under clothing.
  • Don't apply repellent over sunburns, cuts, wounds or rashes.
  • When the risk of mosquito bites has passed, wash repellent off the skin with soap and water.

Treat clothing and outdoor gear

Permethrin is an insecticide and insect repellent used for added protection. This product is made to use on clothing and outdoor gear, not skin. Check the product label for instructions. Some sporting goods stores sell clothing pretreated with permethrin. Don't wash bed nets or set them in sunlight, as this breaks down permethrin. Clothing sprayed with permethrin can offer protection for two washings and up to two weeks.

Use protective clothing and gear

Weather permitting, wear a hat, long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

Take preventive medicine

Get vaccinations or take preventive medicine that your health care provider has suggested.

Think about whether you tend to have large or severe reactions to mosquito bites — skeeter syndrome. You might want to take a nondrowsy, nonprescription antihistamine when you know you'll be exposed to mosquitoes.

Reduce mosquitoes around your home

Get rid of standing water, which mosquitoes need to breed. Take these steps to keep your house and yard free of mosquito pools:

  • Unclog roof gutters.
  • Empty children's wading pools at least once a week, and preferably more often.
  • Change water in birdbaths at least weekly.
  • Get rid of old tires in your yard.
  • Empty outdoor flower pots regularly or store them upside down so that they can't collect water.
  • Drain your fire pit if water collects there.

Diagnosis

Your health care provider will likely be able to diagnose mosquito bites simply by looking at them and talking with you about your recent activities.

The inflamed, itchy, painful swelling referred to as skeeter syndrome is sometimes mistaken for a bacterial infection. Skeeter syndrome is the result of an allergic reaction to proteins in mosquito saliva. There's no simple blood test to detect mosquito antibodies in blood. Antibodies are substances the body produces during an allergic reaction.

Mosquito allergy is diagnosed by determining whether the large areas of swelling and itching occurred after mosquito bites.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Most mosquito bites stop itching and heal on their own in a few days. These self-care tips may make you more comfortable.

  • Applying a lotion, cream or paste. Avoid scratching itchy bites. It may help to apply calamine lotion or a nonprescription antihistamine cream or corticosteroid cream. Or try dabbing the bite with a paste made of baking soda and water. Reapply the cream or the paste three times a day until the itch is gone.
  • Rubbing with an ice cube. Try soothing an itchy bite by rubbing it with an ice cube for 30 seconds.
  • Applying pressure. Another way to soothe an itchy bite is by applying pressure for 10 seconds.
  • Taking an oral antihistamine. For stronger reactions, try taking a nonprescription antihistamine that doesn't cause sleepiness, such as cetirizine (Children's Zyrtec Allergy, Zyrtec Allergy, others) or loratadine (Alavert, Claritin, others).

Preparing for an appointment

You won't need to see your doctor for a mosquito bite unless you develop a fever or other symptoms that sometimes develop after such bites.

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

Before your appointment, make a list of:

  • Symptoms you've been having and for how long
  • All medicines, vitamins and supplements you take, including the doses
  • Questions to ask your doctor

If you're having signs and symptoms you think might be related to a mosquito bite, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What can I do to stop the itch?
  • Is the area around my mosquito bite infected?
  • Does the medicine you're prescribing have any side effects?
  • How will I know if I need more care?

What you can do in the meantime

If itching is a problem, try a nonprescription, nonsedating antihistamine such as cetirizine (Children's Zyrtec Allergy, Zyrtec Allergy, others).


Content From Mayo Clinic Updated:
© 1998-2022 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Terms of Use