Can You Be Allergic To Mosquito Bites?

They’re just the worst.

by Lindsay E. Mack and Jennifer Parris
Originally Published: 

They itch. They turn your skin red and bumpy. Mosquito bites are a nuisance for basically everybody. But for some people, the tiny bugs can present real health complications. So can you be allergic to mosquito bites, or are these bug bites simply irritating? Because anyone can be bitten by mosquitoes, it’s a good idea to know about potential reactions to their bites.

Can you be allergic to mosquito bites?

While some people will feel itching and soreness, others might truly have an allergic reaction to mosquito bites. And, in rare cases, some individuals might suffer from Skeeter syndrome, a large inflammatory reaction to a mosquito bite. But, it’s not just the size and scope of the bite that’s scary; it’s the additional systemic symptoms that accompany it, such as fever and vomiting. If you or your child experiences such a reaction after getting bitten by a mosquito, speak to your doctor about getting skin testing that can help to tell if you or your child is allergic to mosquito bites or not.

“Most people will have a slight reaction to mosquito bites, but they can vary from person to person as well as within the same person,” adds Dr. Stephen Humphrey, M.D., a pediatric dermatologist, tells Romper. “Rarely, some individuals will have very large local reactions to mosquito bites, where the reaction can be several centimeters in size, be tender, hot to the touch and resemble a bacterial infection.”

Ordinary Mosquito Bite Reaction

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Having some sort of reaction to mosquito bites is common. “Most people have local reactions to mosquito bites, thought to be a result of sensitivity to proteins in the mosquito saliva,” Dr. Casey Curtis, allergist and immunologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Romper. “These reactions typically consist of progressive local redness and swelling at the site of a bite over 1-2 days. These may resolve within a week or so.” Although they are annoying and often itchy, the vast majority of mosquito bites do not pose a serious health risk.

While a typical mosquito bite can cause some redness and itching, the type of reaction you experience really depends on where the bite is on your body, Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician, tells Romper. “An ordinary reaction to a mosquito bite tends to involve some mild redness and itching,” explains Cecchini. “On the face, though, they can cause swelling around the eye.”

Signs Of An Allergic Reaction To Mosquito Bites

But, can you be allergic to mosquito bites? “There are a wide range of reactions to mosquito bites, ranging from small itching spots or bumps to serious allergic reactions that require medical attention,” Dr. Allen Dozor, a professor of pediatrics and clinical public health at New York Medical College, tells Romper. “In general, the larger the reaction, the more serious.” In the case of mosquito bites, bigger is never better. “Most people will get small, local inflammatory reactions. If someone has a hypersensitivity to mosquito saliva (that's what people are reacting to), there will be a much larger reaction — the size of a quarter or bigger,” explains Dr. Marc F. Goldstein, an allergist and immunologist at The Asthma Center.

Additional signs you’re allergic to mosquito bites that may appear: “If there are hives or bruising around the bites, if there is swelling in a larger area than just where the bites were, then the reaction of the body is more pronounced and may require more than just local cream or an antihistamine,” says Dozer. “If there is associated fever, and general malaise, this is more serious.” For the most part, a severe reaction to mosquito bites involves more symptoms than the appearance of one small, itchy bite mark.

If you can’t tell whether it’s an allergic reaction or not, consider getting tested by a specialist. “An allergist can actually do skin testing to determine if someone is allergic to [insect] strings or bites,” including mosquitos,” says Goldstein.

Who is vulnerable to mosquito bite allergy?

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The upside of all those mosquito bites you got in childhood is that they may help you build immunity. However, some people are more vulnerable to mosquito bites and more prone to reaction. If you or your child have hematological disorders, the Epstein-Barr virus or Wells’ syndrome, you may want to be tested to see if you might be allergic to mosquito bites.

When To See A Doctor For Mosquito Bites

Severe reactions require medical attention right away. “A patient with a worrisome reaction such as throat swelling, itchiness in the throat, or severe swelling around the bite site should seek immediate medical attention,” Dr. James Kosko, pediatric otolaryngologist, tells Romper. “This is a true emergency and would be classified as an anaphylactic reaction. Patients that have this reaction should carry an epinephrine injector such as an EpiPen.” For the most part, severe allergic reactions to mosquito bites are exceedingly rare, but they do happen on occasion. “Rarely, systemic allergic reactions which may include diffuse hives, wheezing, nausea/vomiting, low blood pressure, or passing out have been reported with mosquito bites,” says Curtis. “This would require discussion with an allergist for further evaluation.”

Location of the mosquito bite matters, too. “If the bite is on the face and causes a large amount of swelling, especially the face of a small child, we recommend following up with your provider to rule out other potential and more concerning diagnoses,” Sanjeev Jain, M.D., PhD, board-certified allergist and immunologist at Columbia Allergy, tells Romper.

The condition of the bite itself might be cause for concern — and a call to your child’s pediatrician. “If you have a mosquito bite or several that have worsening redness, pain or irritation, you’ll want to see a doctor,” advises Cecchini. “If you develop a fever or notice that the redness is spreading further from the bite, blisters or yellow crusting or any pus oozing or other drainage, you’ll want to seek medical attention.”

Finally, if these serious reactions to mosquitos keep happening, that’s another reason to visit your physician. “For someone who has very strong and frequent reactions, they can seek treatment from an allergist to reduce their sensitivity using allergy shots which would desensitize them to the saliva,” says Goldstein. “I've mostly seen this for landscapers, for instance — people who have large and frequent exposure.”

How To Treat Mosquito Bites At Home

At-home mosquito bite remedies are plentiful. “My best advice is to try to leave the bite alone, try to avoid scratching it,” says Dozor. “This is easier said than done. Other suggestions include washing the area with soap and water, trying an ice pack on the bite, applying calamine lotion or other anti-itch creams, or taking over the counter antihistamines.” Over-the-counter allergy medications are also an option. “Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is a tried and true antihistamine used for allergic reactions. Patients may also use loratadine (Claritin) or ceftirizine (Zyrtec),” says Kosko.

If your kid can’t stop the scratching, there are additional overt-the-counter options. “An over-the-counter cortisone cream applied 3x/day may be helpful,” Dr. Morgana Colombo, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist, tells Romper. “Sarna lotion, also sold over-the-counter, can be used on top of cortisone cream or alone 2-3x a day.”

You can try to reduce the frequency of mosquito bites by staying inside when mosquitoes tend to be active (generally around dusk and dawn), as Kosko explains. If you are going out, then protect your little ones with the best mosquito repellent for kids and babies, or use mosquito repellent wearables, such as shirts made with insect repellent.

Experts interviewed:

Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician

Dr. Casey Curtis, Allergist and Immunologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Dr. Stephen Humphrey, M.D., pediatric dermatologist and The Society for Pediatric Dermatology committee chair

Dr. Marc F. Goldstein, an allergist and immunologist at The Asthma Center

Dr. Allen Dozor, a professor of pediatrics and clinical public health at New York Medical College

Dr. James Kosko, pediatric otolaryngologist at Children’s Ear, Nose, Throat & Allergy in Orlando, Florida

Dr. Sanjeev Jain, M.D., board-certified allergist and immunologist at Columbia Allergy

Dr. Morgana Colombo, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist

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