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How To Tell If You’re Allergic To Mosquito Bites

They’re just the worst.

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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.

(If you are experiencing signs of anaphylaxis such as trouble breathing, swelling of the mouth and throat, or a drop in blood pressure, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.)

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/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.

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,” as Marc F. Goldstein, MD FAAAAI, FACAAI Medical Advisor with Curist, Chief of Allergy & Immunology at Pennsylvania Hospital (The University of Pennsylvania), tells Romper.

Additional signs you’re allergic to mosquito bites may appear as well. “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 creme or an antihistamine,” says Dr. Dozer. “If there is associated fever, and general malaise, this is more serious.” For the most part, a severe reaction to mosquito bites, sometimes known as “skeeter syndrome,” involves more symptoms than the appearance of one small, itchy bite mark.

If you can’t tell whether it’s an allergy or not, then 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 Dr. Goldstein.

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 at Children’s Ear, Nose, Throat & Allergy in Orlando, Florida, 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, as noted in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology. “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 Dr. 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, MD, PhD, board certified allergist and immunologist at Columbia Allergy, tells Romper.

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 Dr. Goldstein. “I've mostly seen this for landscapers, for instance — people who have large and frequent exposure.” Dr. Goldstein does add that this is not a common treatment, and that not all allergists offer it.

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 Dr. 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 Dr. Kosko.

Lastly, 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 Dr. Kosko explains. If you are going out, then protect your littles with the best mosquito repellent for kids and babies, or use mosquito repellent wearables, such as shirts made with insect repellent.

In short, can you be allergic to mosquito bites? Yes, but very serious reactions tend to be rare, according to doctors.

Experts:

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

Dr. Allen Dozor, a Professor of pediatrics and clinical public health at New York Medical College and Chief of the medical school’s Division of Pulmonology, Allergy and Sleep Medicine

Marc F. Goldstein, MD FAAAAI, FACAAI Medical Advisor with Curist, Chief of Allergy & Immunology at Pennsylvania Hospital (The University of Pennsylvania)

Sanjeev Jain, MD, PhD, board certified Allergist and Immunologist at Columbia Allergy

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

Study Referenced:

Singh S, Mann BK. Insect bite reactions. The Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology, https://ijdvl.com/insect-bite-reactions/