How to deal with mosquitoes and mosquito bites (part 1)
Those scorching temperatures of the last few weeks have of course been fantastic. It’s just a pity that the warm weather has also been so favourable for mosquitoes. They came early this summer. And there’s nothing worse than being bitten to death in your garden or bedroom. What can you do about mosquitoes? How can you relieve mosquito bites? And why does one person suffer more than another? There is so much on this subject, and so many questions I have received, that I am spreading it over two blogs.
Your skin’s odour
How does it work? How can your partner have an undisturbed night’s sleep while you are constantly fighting off those buzzing gate crashers, and yet still get bitten to death. Is it the smell of sweet blood? No, that is a myth. But your skin’s odour does play a part. And did you know that this smell is decided by your skin’s bacteria?
Ultimately, the composition of your skin’s residents determines your specific odour and whether mosquitoes are attracted to you. Research has revealed that mosquitoes are slightly more attracted to ‘old sweat’. To be more specific, sweat converts the bacteria into an odour that is found attractive. So, having a shower before you go to bed can help.
More appealing with deodorant?
Research has at some point discovered that skincare products, such as deodorant, can affect how appealing we are to mosquitoes. In particular, the bond isopropyl tetradecanoate in deodorant make it less appealing for mosquitoes to get their ‘teeth’ stuck into our skin. However, other studies have found that using deodorants and antiperspirants actually cause many good skin bacteria to die, giving rise to ‘bad’ types such as certain staphylococci. The result is that your skin actually becomes more appealing to mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes are less attracted to skin with many different strains of bacteria, in particular a large amount of the type Pseudomonas, than skin where more staphylococci bacteria grow.
I will talk more about how to use bacteria in the fight against mosquitoes, and the diseases they pass on, in my next blog. Now I would like to tell you what you can do if you have been bitten. And why it can be very distressing for some adults and children.
Why do mosquito bites affect children more?
It is not only the skin bacteria – and alongside it our bodies odour – which play a part in how attractive we are for mosquitoes, but also the amount of carbon dioxide we exhale. That is why more men, for instance, are bitten by mosquitoes than women. Pregnant women are also often ‘the scapegoat’, mainly in the last three months of pregnancy when they exhale more carbon dioxide. And did you know this is why mosquitoes prefer to land on adults rather than children? Although, as children usually react more severely to mosquito bites, I can understand if you think the opposite is the case. Severe reactions are less common in adults, and the reason for this is that the body very gradually gets used to ‘mosquito toxins’.
How can you treat those swollen itchy bumps?
Children and some adults can react quite severely to mosquito bites. They get swollen red bumps which keep itching and can become infected. This over sensitive reaction arises due to a ‘substance’ that the mosquito injects to make sure that our blood remains runny. Mosquitoes don’t sting us with a stinger, as a bee or wasp does. They bite the skin with a sort of mouthpart. They then drill their probes into the skin along with some saliva containing, among other things, an anti-coagulant to suck up the blood. Our body reacts by defending itself against the intruder. An anti-inflammatory reaction takes place where all sorts of substances in the skin are released which cause irritation, itching and the urge to scratch.
I would love to hear your point of view on this.
Cold packs and heat pens
There are ways in which you can ease the irritation. A simple ice block or cold pack will stop the swelling and redness. In the case of severe itching, you can take an anti-histamine before going to bed. Some corticosteroid cream on the fresh mosquito bite also works.
I am not a fan of cooling creams or salves with menthol or alcohol. These ingredients may be able to camouflage the itching temporarily, however they can also irritate and break down the skin. And that is the last thing you want. More interesting for me is the research into the effect of temporary heat applied onto the painful and itching area after a mosquito bite. Apparently, there is a type of pen on the market which has been approved by the American supervisory body, FDA. The apparatus, which looks similar to a large thermometer applies a momentary shot of heat of around 50 degrees. This heat gives relief, via a complex process, whereby structure particles in nerve cells are inhibited to reduce the symptoms of pain and itching.
In the meantime, I have also read on the internet that people are experimenting with hot spoons and (the underside of) cups of boiling water on their mosquito bites. Of course I strongly advise against this. The bump will stop itching after a while, but you’ll still be left with burn blisters.
I always have a tube of Emla crème to hand for annoying mosquito bites, especially on holiday and for the children. It contains, among other things, a higher concentration of the anaesthetic substance lidocaine. This cream is only available on prescription though. It may be difficult to get hold of, but you can also buy ear drops at the chemist which contain 1% lidocaine. This will also anaesthetise the skin to a degree and help relieve the itching.
Don’t scratch, try it!
No matter how difficult, you really need to try and resist scratching mosquito bites. A bite which has been scratched open is extremely susceptible to infection. And I have seen and read about the most appalling examples of this. It is important that you are careful, especially if you are travelling abroad.
And talking of travel, I will tell you more about mosquito repellent medicine in the next blog. In particular, about products based on DEET, which are mainly used for faraway holidays. There are some disturbing articles to be read and I have often received questions on this. How safe are these sprays and lotions, and are there alternatives?
Finally, for those of you affected by the mosquitoes in the Netherlands at the moment: did you know there is such a thing as Muggenradar.nl? This is provided by Buienradar.nl in collaboration with Wageningen University. On the basis of diverse weather factors such as temperature, humidity and precipitation, the likelihood of mosquito disturbance is shown. You will then have time to prepare yourself…
Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology