Why Do Mosquito Bites Itch?

Last Updated: 12.11.19

 

For most people, summer is the best time of the year because they get to go to the beach, stay up till late, wear skimpy clothes, and enjoy various fun outdoor activities. However, the perfect summer plans can be easily destroyed by mosquitoes lurking in the dark, waiting to bite you if there isn’t any insect repellent or mosquito zapper nearby.

Mosquito bites are not only itchy and annoying but also dangerous. These insects are disease carriers and there is a reason why they are called the deadliest creatures in the world. Amongst others, mosquito bites can infect human victims with encephalitis, the Zika virus, malaria, dengue, yellow fever, and the West Nile virus.

However, there is a large misconception that these insects can also transmit AIDS. Although theoretically possible, there is no piece of evidence to support this theory and none of the studies conducted on the diseases and viruses transmitted by mosquitoes have reached this conclusion so far.

Nevertheless, mosquito bites should be avoided. Here is everything you need to know about them and the most efficient methods to fight against these threats in the summertime.

 

General information

Mosquitoes are fascinating insects that are closely related to flies. In fact, their name in Spanish literally means “little fly”. There are nearly 35,000 different species of mosquitoes scattered all around the world. Most of these insects are crepuscular feeders, meaning they are mainly active during dawn and dusk.

However, some of them, like the Asian tiger mosquito can also attack during the daytime, so you should stay alert throughout the day and night, especially if you plan on going hiking, camping or fishing by the lake.

Their feeding habits are also fascinating since they differ massively between females and males. Male mosquitoes have a diet based on flower nectar and they never feed on other animals or birds.

Females follow a similar diet until they are ready to procreate. Female mosquitoes have specially designed mouths that can penetrate the skin of other animals, including humans.

Some female mosquito species feed on blood because they need the protein source to lay eggs, while others need the proteins to increase the number of eggs they can lay at one time. No matter the reason, one thing is for sure – only female mosquitoes are the ones that bite and feed on blood, while males prefer a “vegetarian” diet.

Why do mosquito bites itch?

When the female mosquito penetrates the human skin sucking out the blood, the person’s body recognizes the saliva of the insect as a foreign substance, generating an automatic self-defense mechanism. The immune system tries to immediately fight back, flushing the intruder.

Whenever the skin is pierced by insects, the body’s reaction around the bite may include redness, swelling, and itchiness. All these side effects are caused by histamine which is produced by the immune systems.

Histamine causes the blood flow to increase, while the white blood cells form a type of protection wall around the affected area, leading to temporary swelling and inflammation.

However, the body’s reaction to any foreign substance getting in contact with the skin goes way beyond simple redness. At the same time, histamine also sends a signal to all the nerves around the affected area which, in return, trigger the sensation of itchiness. This is our body’s way of communicating with us, letting us know that there is a potential threat that must be fought and eliminated.

The sensation of itchiness, since it is strictly linked to the neuronal system, differs from one person to another. Therefore, the intensity of the itchiness is felt differently, depending on a person’s tolerance level or how sensitive their brains are. Thus, some may never react to a bite, while others might feel the itchiness more intense, causing an increased level of stress and discomfort.

 

Is scratching going to make it better?

Whenever we are bitten by an insect, our normal reaction is to start scratching the affected area in an attempt to relieve the pain. However, scratching will only make the itching worse in the long term. The inflammation caused by the bite will increase even further if we continue touching that area. In addition, scratching could also increase the risk of infections.

 

Why some people are prone to mosquito bites?

Believe it or not, mosquitoes carefully choose their targets in an attempt to maximize their blood meals and get all the necessary nutrients for reproduction in one single meal. So, if you ever wondered why you’re the only one targeted by mosquitoes in the summer while your friends don’t seem to have a problem, here are some of the reasons as learned after decades of studies:

 

Blood type

People with O blood type are considered universal donors as they can give their blood through transfusions to all other blood types. And, since they’re such nice people, they are willing to share their blood even with insects like mosquitoes.

Jokes aside, it appears that mosquitoes are able to “sense” the blood type of a person from a distance due to the proportion of several chemical substances contained by it. Both O negative and positive blood types contain the necessary nutrients for female mosquitoes to enhance their chances of reproduction.

Alcohol and sweet perfumes

Not only mosquitoes are drawn by the sweet scent of body lotions and perfumes but also flies or bees. Thus, you shouldn’t feel surprised if you’re going to look like a walking target if you choose to apply these substances on your skin in the summertime.

Drinking alcohol won’t do you much good either. Most alcoholic beverages contain high amounts of sugars that are transferred into the blood, attracting mosquitoes like a magnet. However, drinking pure vodka or beer might be better than indulging yourself in sugary alcoholic beverages like wine, rum or cocktails.

 

How to treat mosquito bites

If you have a hard time protecting yourself from the mosquito attacks or cannot stand the smell of most insect repellents applied on your body, there are still some useful remedies to get rid of the itches and cure bites faster.

Antihistamines are a type of over-the-counter drugs that you can buy from any pharmacy or supermarket. They help reduce inflammation and itching, speeding up the recovery.

A study conducted in 2011 revealed that one way to get relief from itches is to apply heat on the affected area. Honey is another popular remedy for a series of affections, including mosquito bites. The ingredient has antibacterial and antifungal properties, which speeds up the healing process. In addition, it reduces inflammation and prevents further infections.

However, don’t forget to wash it off your skin once you step outside as the sweet smell and taste can attract other insects.

Rubbing alcohol applied directly on the mosquito bites will not only relieve you from the nasty itches but will also prevent infections. You can get a similar effect by mixing a few drops of water with salt and rubbing the mixture on the affected area.

 

 

 

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