You're enjoying the stillness of your surroundings, probably reading your favourite novel or watching your favourite serial and this irritating insect hovers around you. You guessed it right, it's a mosquito! In case you're not aware, not all mosquitoes yearn for your blood, only the female mosquitoes do! A famous mosquito expert, Joseph M. Conlon from the American Mosquito Control Association says, "Female mosquitoes imbibe blood as a protein source for egg development," Most bites and stings from insects result in a localized swelling and itching that usually settles down in a couple of hours. While it is not the most common allergy type, certain people end up with adverse allergies caused by mosquito bites.
The female mosquitoes feed on humans, as they need to produce eggs through a blood meal. In the feeding process, it bites the skin and injects its saliva, which contains several proteins preventing blood from clotting. This includes those that do not restrict the blood flow into its mouth. It is this saliva proteins that cause allergic reactions, besides other immune reactions.
Severity of Allergic Reactions
Have you ever wondered why some experience a relatively increased swelling area or redness at the bite sight, while some people react to it quite slowly? G R Ratnavel, consultant dermatologist, Apollo hospitals, explains that it is the skin sensitivity that determines the severity of an allergic reaction, definitely not which type mosquito bites them. He further points out that “Most patients who react to mosquito bites are also allergic to mosquito repellent creams, and are asked to slather on soothing calamine lotion that forms a chalky layer on the skin, impenetrable to mosquitoes,"
Dr. Clifford Bassett, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine, claims that, whether or not the person is sensitive to saliva proteins, therefore it's the allergy! There are various reactions to mosquito bites from small redness, itchiness and swelling, to extensive redness and large area of swelling. Skeeter's syndrome is a rare, fully blown allergic reaction.
Skeeter's Syndrome (SS)
This is one of the most adverse mosquito bite reactions, a type where the bite site gets inflamed and swells up. This condition is often mistaken for cellulitis as it's a bit similar, but the latter requires antibiotics and the former doesn't. Mostly young people and those with autoimmune disorders are affected. It has uncomfortable symptoms such as :
- Red lump in bite area
- Large bumps and swelling in and around the area
- Severe itching
- Bruising and blisters
- Infection from scratching
- Asthma (occasional)
- Anaphylaxis (rare)
3 Kinds of Allergies to Mosquito Bites
1. Mild Bite Allergies – A white puffy bump that appears minutes after the bite, which eventually swells. The itchiness persists for a few days. Jorge Parada, MD, medical director of the Infection Control Program at Loyola University Chicago and medical advisor for the National Pest Management Association, claims that this is the most common reaction to a mosquito bite.
*Quick Tip: You can treat these mild bite allergies at home with use calamine lotion or a hydrocortisone cream, in case itching persists.
2. Moderate Bite Allergies – You may have a mild allergy if any of your family members have an immune disorder. The symptoms occurring in case of moderate allergies include 101° Fahrenheit, redness and swelling, hives, swelling of lymph nodes.
*Quick Tip: For hives and itching, you can use antihistamines and ice for localized redness and swelling.
3. Severe Bite Allergies – These require medical treatment as they can lead to anaphylaxis, dangerous allergy that needs emergency treatment. The associated symptoms include blistering lesions, joint swelling large hives.
*Quick Tip: Always make sure you carry Epi-Pen if you fall under this category. You can inject epinephrine while you wait to be treated by emergency medical professionals.
3 Preventive Measures to Prevent Mosquito Bite Allergies
Defensive measures go a long way in avoiding those horrendous bites. Some measures:
- Mosquitoes are mostly attracted to people who smell nice (using scented stuff) and sweat too much.
- Beware of mosquitoes during dawn and dusk.
- Wear long sleeves and pants (tucked inside shoes) as this covers up all exposed areas, especially during walking or hiking in woods.
Ways to Repel Mosquitoes
There are several insect repellents containing DEET, ranging from 5-10% of concentration to 3—40%. Its strength dictates how long you can stay free from bites. You may also use natural things like eucalyptus oils and other repellent products as per directions on the label. If you still get bitten, treating those bites will give you some relief. It is important to clean the bite site by using a steroid cream as it reduces the localized discomfort and itch. A cool ice compress also works in reducing swelling.
Treatments to Reduce Itching and Swelling:
- Calamine lotion/Caladryl – Has a soothing effect on itchy irritated skin - zinc + iron oxides reported to have a soothing effect on itchy skin. Caladryl contains slight topical analgesic for pain relief.
- Ice packs – The blood vessels are blocked by the cold, which numbs the skin and reduces discomfort.
- Ibuprofen/ hydrocortisone cream – These 2 creams reduce swelling considerably. Hydrocortisone is widely used as it soothes itching.
- Anti-histamines – Benadryl, an OTC drug counters histamine reactions, reduces itching and returns the blood vessels to normal.
Tests for Mosquito Bite Allergies
How can you figure out that your kids and you are allergic to a mosquito's saliva? You will not, unless you get bitten. If you've suffered just a mild reaction, then you're not allergic. Children having limited exposure to mosquitoes may end up with unknown allergies. The situation is often under-diagnosed as there is no proper testing procedure to gauge these bites. Senior paediatrician Narayan Usgaonker explains, “children who are born and brought up here develop good resistance to such problems, but NRIs and tourists will have to live in India for at least three years to get acclimatized to mosquito bites," He goes on to say, “The rashes alone are nothing to get anxious about, but children tend to scratch them, resulting in severely infected ulcers. We administer anti-histamines to stop the itching sensation and then treat the rashes with topical medication.”