Why Do Mosquito Bites?
Only female mosquitoes bite. And their mouths are intricate, multipart instruments. Known formally as a proboscis, the female mosquito’s mouth is made up of a bundle of long, tapered feeding stylets that act like microscopic syringes — sucking out the blood that females require to produce their eggs. As the mosquito extracts this blood, it also pumps its saliva into the bite site, says Jonathan Day, PhD, a professor of medical entomology at the University of Florida. This saliva contains proteins that prevent the bite from clotting, which would slow the outflow of blood and therefore disrupt feeding, Dr. Day explains.
Apart from stopping blood from clotting, these saliva proteins also elicit a reaction from the bite victim’s immune system. Specifically, the human immune system releases a compound called histamine, which promotes inflammation and allows wound-repairing white blood cells to flood the area of the injury. It’s this histamine-releasing immune reaction that causes all your bug bite symptoms.
Rubbing Alcohol, Calamine Lotion.
First of all, try your best not to scratch your itchy bug bite. That will only further inflame the lesion, and make the itching, swelling, and irritation worse. The swelling, redness, and itch are the body’s responses to those foreign proteins, Day explains. Instead, he recommends dabbing the bite with rubbing alcohol. By denaturing the proteins in the bite, rubbing alcohol “works really well in reducing swelling and the histamine response,” he says. “In the field, I always carry those little individually packaged alcohol swabs, and
they really help me.”
Calamine lotion can also relieve the itch, says Lee Townsend, PhD, an extension professor of entomology at the University of Kentucky. The same is true of over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams, which help mellow the body’s natural immune response to the mosquito proteins.
Tips for How to Avoid Getting Mosquito.
To minimize your bite risk, try to stay indoors at dawn and dusk — times when humidity often peaks. “The higher the humidity, the better for mosquitoes, so dawn and dusk are times when they tend to be active,” Day says. He explains that mosquitoes are fragile insects, and their bodies dry out quickly if they’re exposed to arid conditions or extended stretches of bright sunlight (which is another reason they prefer hunting at dawn and dusk, as opposed to midday). They’re also weak fliers, he says, so any kind of breeze or fan-generated wind tends to keep them at bay. If you can find a place that’s exposed to wind, or you have a strong fan handy, both can prevent mosquitoes from biting you. Also good to keep in mind: Mosquitoes are attracted to both the carbon dioxide humans exhale and the natural odors our bodies produce — stuff like sweat and foot odor. If you’ve been exercising, you’re likely to be both sweaty and producing higher amounts of carbon dioxide. Better to cool off and shower up indoors before heading outside.