The internet is rife with “life hacks” and old wives’ tales on how to stop bug bites from itching, but do any of them actually work?
Last summer, I gave one of them a try. I read that marking an “X” into the bite with my fingernail would provide some relief. My backyard is a huge attraction for mosquitoes, so, soon enough, I had a sizable bug bite to test this on.
The verdict? I may have been distracted from the itchiness for a good 30 seconds or so, but that’s all it was – a distraction. To truly relieve yourself of the itch, you must reduce inflammation, which won’t be achieved by a game of X-marks-the-spot.
But first, the best protection against any bug bite is prevention.
How to arm yourself against bugs
Now, hold on. Put down those citronella tiki torches for a second. Bug bite prevention comes down to three simple tips.
Avoid them as much as possible
It’s the summer and, though we may be traveling, camping or going to family barbecues, the only way to ensure we don’t get bitten is to ensure we don’t give bugs the chance.
Avoid tall grass and wooded areas to avoid ticks, head indoors once the mosquitoes come out and, when traveling, ensure you’re sleeping in places that are air-conditioned or screened against bugs.
Wear insect repellent
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing EPA-registered insect repellent with at least 20 percent DEET to protect against mosquito and tick bites. Apply as directed and apply often.
For a more natural insect repellant, try products with oil of lemon eucalyptus.
When applying both insect repellant and sunscreen, apply sunscreen first, let it dry and then apply the repellent.
Whenever possible, wear long-sleeve shirts, pants, socks and a hat. Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks.
For extra protection while traveling and camping, the CDC recommends using permethrin-treated gear, such as tents, sleeping bags and clothing.
Common bug bites
The mosquito bite is a summertime ailment so common that it’s nearly synonymous with the season. But mosquitoes aren’t the only bugs that are prevalent in the warmer months. Bedbugs, fleas and ticks enjoy the warm weather, too.
Tick bites can be itchy like mosquito bites, but, luckily (or rather unluckily), we can identify them by the tick’s head. Ticks like to bite and set up shop in the skin, burrowing in their heads. Even if the tick is too small to see, it will enlarge after feasting on your blood.
Bedbug bites look similar to mosquito bites and can be harder to identify. Bed bug bites are red and raised, but are different in that they can sometimes appear in clusters or straight lines. Flea bites are different in that they appear as small red dots surrounded by reddened halos.
Most flies don’t bite, but some of the most pesky and painful bites can come from horse flies, deer flies and sand flies, also known as biting midges or no-see-ums. Bites from horse and deer flies are recognizable for the sharp pains that follow the initial bite. The bites of sand flies are painful as well, but much smaller.
How to stop bug bites from itching
This may sound reminiscent of lectures from Mom, but the most important piece of advice on how to stop bug bites from itching is to stop scratching them.
Scratching causes the skin to become more inflamed, which causes more itchiness, which makes you want to scratch again, which causes more inflammation and … you get it. Plus, too much scratching could break the skin and cause an infection.
Resist the urge and try one of the remedies below instead.
- Apply an ice pack or cool, wet cloth to the bite for 15 to 20 minutes once an hour for the first six hours after being bitten.
- Take an antihistamine. Histamine is the compound that the body’s immune system releases after being bitten. It’s what causes itchiness, inflammation and swelling. Taking an antihistamine medication will soothe those symptoms throughout the body.
- Apply a hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to the bite. Both can be used to treat inflammation.
- Apply aloe vera gel. You may know to use aloe vera to soothe sunburns – the same cooling effect can help soothe itchiness.
- Make an oatmeal mask by adding water to colloidal oatmeal and apply it to the bite to reduce inflammation. Wash it off with warm water after 15 minutes.
- Soak a bag of green or black tea, then place it in the fridge to cool it down. Once cool, place it over the bite to reduce swelling and relieve itchiness.
Contact your doctor if any new symptoms develop or if symptoms become more severe or frequent.
What’s your advice on how to stop bug bites from itching? Tell us in the comments below.