Warmer weather means more time outside, but it also means more pests. One of the most bothersome insects that emerges when the temperatures begin to rise is the mosquito. These flying pests are notorious for biting humans, and their bites are often itchy, sometimes even painful.
While mosquito bites might not be completely avoidable, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of being bitten. Before you head outside to enjoy the fresh air, find out everything you need to know about mosquito bites.
Why Do Mosquitoes Bite?
You might think mosquitoes exist only to bite you on the arms and legs, but this isn't true. In fact, only a small percentage of mosquitoes primarily bite people — most are more likely to go after smaller mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. And contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes don't bite to survive. They feed off nectar and plant juices, but blood allows them to reproduce. This means a blood meal is required for successful reproduction, so only female mosquitoes bite.
What Causes Mosquitoes to Bite You?
Mosquitoes have finely tuned senses, and they use these to detect biological signals that help them locate hosts. Body heat, odor and movement can all help a mosquito find you, but the real beacons are the scent of carbon dioxide and chemicals in your sweat. Certain colors, like red, can even attract mosquitoes, so dark-colored clothing may make you an easier target, as well.
What Happens When a Mosquito Bites You?
When a mosquito bites you, she injects you with a long, tubular mouthpart called a proboscis. This allows her to pierce through your skin and siphon blood out. After she's punctured the skin, she searches for a blood vessel. Then, she injects specialized saliva into the wound to prevent blood from clotting and allow her to feed quickly. A mosquito will usually feed until she has consumed four times her body weight in blood.
Why Do Mosquito Bites Itch?
The culprit behind itchy mosquito bites is the insect's saliva. The saliva causes a minor allergic reaction in your body, resulting in the swollen bump and itchiness that are tell-tale signs of a mosquito bite.
What Does a Mosquito Bite Look Like?
Mosquito bites typically appear almost immediately after a bite occurs. In fact, this is one of the distinguishing factors between these bites and the bites of some other insects, such as bed bugs. The appearance of mosquito bites can vary from person to person, but for most, mosquito bites are usually inflamed, roundish and white or red in color. Some may have a small dot in the center. Bites may have oddly shaped edges, as well, rather than perfectly round ones, and they may be scattered.
How to Get Rid of Mosquito Bites
While it's difficult not to scratch a mosquito bite, it's important to resist the urge. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), scratching bites can cause them to become infected. Infected bites may be red and feel warm to the touch, and sometimes, a red streak will spread from the bite site. If you think you have an infected mosquito bite, it's important to monitor your symptoms and seek medical attention if your condition worsens.
To treat mosquito bites, the CDC recommends an over-the-counter anti-itch or antihistamine cream, such as calamine lotion, to relieve the itching. You should always follow directions when applying these products.
Home Remedies for Mosquito Bites
If you don't want to use an over-the-counter cream, there are a few home remedies for mosquito bites that the CDC also recommends. These include washing the area with soap and water and applying an ice pack to help reduce swelling. You can also make a paste using 1 tablespoon of baking soda and a small amount of water. Apply the paste to the bite and remove it after about 10 minutes to help reduce itching.
Does a Mosquito Bite Bruise?
While mosquito bites don't typically have a tendency to bruise, according to the Mayo Clinic, they may develop dark spots that resemble bruises. Depending on the person, mosquito bites may also develop as hard, itchy bumps or small blisters.
What Symptoms Should You Watch Out For?
Minor, localized reactions to mosquito bites generally include swelling, redness and itching, although children, people with compromised immune systems or those who are severely allergic may experience more serious symptoms, including large areas of swelling and redness, low-grade fever, hives and swollen lymph nodes.
Unfortunately, mosquitoes do carry pathogens that can cause disease in humans. In the United States, the most common cause of mosquito-borne illness is the West Nile Virus. However, mosquitoes can also cause other illnesses like eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) dengue, chikungunya and Zika (although not all these diseases are currently found in the U.S.).
If you or a family member is bitten and experiences symptoms like headaches, fevers, chills, body aches, stiffness, joint pain, confusion, swollen lymph nodes, disorientation, weakness or skin rashes, it may be a sign of a more serious condition. If any of these symptoms occur, see your doctor right away.
How Can You Keep Mosquitoes from Biting You?
Mosquito bites might seem impossible to avoid, but you can reduce your risk of being bitten. First, avoid being outside at dusk and dawn, when some mosquitoes are most active and bites are most likely to occur. When you are outside, wear pants and long sleeves to help reduce exposed skin, as well as a hat, scarf and work gloves if the weather permits.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends using insect repellents that contains DEET, icaridin (also called picaridin), or oil of lemon eucalyptus to prevent bites.
Around your house, make sure you have properly fitted screens on all windows and that all doors seal tightly. Eliminating development sites is essential to controlling mosquito populations near your home. Remove sources of standing water, including pet bowls, rain barrels and bird baths, clean out your gutters, and maintain your pools and water features.
If you have a large mosquito population around your house, you may need more intense treatment, such as residual sprays and other methods used by pest management specialists. Don't spend your summer scratching mosquito bites — call Terminix® today.