Mosquitoes are the bane of summer. They leave nasty, itchy welts all over your skin, and they can also carry diseases.
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But you don’t have to resign yourself to becoming mosquitoes’ favorite feast. If you’re trying to avoid mosquito bites, dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD, says there are a few key tips to keep in mind. For starters, cover up, use insect repellent and eliminate places where the bugs can breed.
Dr. Piliang explains how to keep these biting bugs at bay — and, in the case that you do get bitten, what to do if you suspect that a mosquito bite has become infected.
Can you completely avoid mosquito bites?
Talk about a global presence! There are only two places in the world known to be completely mosquito-free: Antarctica and Iceland. But everywhere else is fair game — and it’s almost impossible to ensure that you’ll never get bitten.
But beyond the annoyance of the itch, why does it matter?
Tips to prevent mosquito bites
There seems to be at least one person in every family or friend group who gets the brunt of the bug bites — someone who’s constantly swatting away skeeters and trying their hardest to fend off the feeding frenzy.
Some of the reasons mosquitos flock to you (or don’t) are out of your control, like your blood type and body temperature. But there are still steps you can take to try to protect yourself and your kids from being bitten.
1. Wear protective clothes
A mosquito’s first choice for biting is your bare, unprotected skin. So, be sure to wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt and long pants when you go outside.
You can even go one step further and treat your clothing with permethrin, a synthetic insect repellent, or purchase clothes already treated with the chemical. Permethrin spray is available from many retailers that cater to camping or outdoor sports enthusiasts.
Clothing treated with permethrin remains protective after a number of launderings, but be sure to check the product information to learn how long the protection will last. If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully. Don’t apply permethrin products directly to your skin because the product is made to treat clothing.
2. Use insect repellant
When you use it as directed, insect repellent is the best way to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Even kids and pregnant people should protect themselves with insect repellent, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When you’re choosing insect repellent to apply to your skin, look for the active ingredients DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) or picaridin (KBR 3023). Both provide protection against biting mosquitoes, but DEET is the most common ingredient found in repellents.
Dr. Piliang recommends DEET. “Higher concentrations of DEET give you longer-lasting protection if you’re staying outside for several hours,” she says. “Products with DEET typically offer different formulas that contain from 5% to 100% of the chemical, giving you about 90 minutes to 10 hours of protection.”
Be sure to follow the directions on the package and follow these tips:
- Apply it to bare skin: “Apply insect repellent only to exposed skin and concentrate on your ankles, feet, neck, ears, arms and legs,” Dr. Piliang says. Don’t spray repellent on the skin that’s covered by clothing.
- Avoid your eyes and mouth: Don’t spray or pump repellent directly onto your face. Instead, spray your hands, then spread the repellent carefully on your face, avoiding your eyes and mouth.
- Sunscreen first: If you’re also wearing sunscreen (psst: You should be!), apply the sunscreen first, then the insect repellent.
Mosquitoes are most active from dusk till dawn, so it’s most important to apply repellent when you go out during those hours. But in many areas, mosquitoes also bite during the day, so apply it whenever you’ll be outdoors for an extended period.
“If you sweat or get wet, you may need to re-apply,” Dr. Piliang notes. “And wash off the insect repellent once you’re inside for the day.
3. Avoid perfumes
You may love a fruity, floral or woodsy scent, but here’s some bad news: Bugs do, too.
“Mosquitoes are attracted to perfumes, colognes and even scented lotions,” Dr. Piliang says, “so if you’re prone to getting bitten, it’s best to forego fragrances.”
4. Stay clean
Sweat is a good thing, your body’s way of regulating its temperature. But it sure doesn’t seem like a good thing when you’re soaked through and mosquitoes keep landing on (and biting into!) your slick skin.
“Mosquitoes are attracted to substances that our bodies release when we sweat, especially lactic acid,” Dr. Piliang explains. This means that you might make for an extra-tasty snack for mosquitoes if you’ve been, say, working in the garden or going for a run.
When possible, shower off after you’ve gotten particularly sweaty. Keeping yourself clean and dry will both endear you to other humans and make you a disappointment to B.O.-loving bugs.
5. Keep your property dry
Nobody wants their backyard to become a breeding ground for bugs that bite. “Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water,” Dr. Piliang says, “so drain any standing water on your property, and empty anything that collects water.”
Any kind of container can become a hotbed for mosquitoes, so dry out items like:
- Flowerpots and water buckets.
- Garbage cans.
- Play equipment, like kiddie pools.
Dr. Piliang also recommends spraying your garbage cans regularly with insecticide and keeping the lids on tight to keep bugs away.
6. Close your windows
Don’t let mosquitoes make your home their home, too. Keep windows closed or ensure that you have screens in the windows so that you can let in a breeze without letting in bugs.
“Make sure that the screens on your doors and windows are in good repair, or consider turning on the air conditioning, if you have it, to keep the bugs outside where they belong,” Dr. Piliang recommends.
7. Stay indoors when mosquitoes are active
OK, OK, this is a bit of a no-brainer, but we had to include it. Though you may feel inclined to soak up every bit of nice weather by staying outdoors as much as possible, it’s smart to retreat back inside when mosquitoes abound.
“One easy way to avoid mosquitoes is to stay inside with the air conditioning on or in a place with window and door insect screens that can keep mosquitoes outside,” Dr. Piliang says.
Again, mosquitoes are most active from dusk until dawn, so stay indoors and out of their way, when you can.
8. Use mosquito nets
Of course, staying indoors isn’t always an option, and not all homes have the same features. But you can still protect yourself from bug bites while you sleep.
“If you’re staying in a place without screens or air conditioning, or if you’re sleeping outdoors, sleep under a mosquito bed net,” Dr. Piliang advises.
These fine, mesh curtains hang over your bed or mattress, letting a breeze in but keeping bugs out. Some bed nets are pretreated with insecticide, which has been shown to increase their effectiveness by as much as 70%.
9. Turn on a fan
Mosquitoes aren’t particularly mobile, especially when they have to contend with windy conditions. “They can’t get around very much,” Dr. Piliang says, “so you can run a fan to keep air moving.”
Signs that a mosquito bite has become a problem
Most mosquito bites are super itchy for a few days, and then they fade into oblivion. But sometimes, they can get infected or cause other health issues that require medical intervention. Here’s what to be on the lookout for:
The first rule of mosquito bites is don’t scratch your mosquito bites!
“Scratching a mosquito bite is one of the worst things you can do for it,” Dr. Piliang states. “When you scratch, your body releases more of the chemical histamine, which actually causes more itchiness. It can also lead to an infection called cellulitis, when bacteria from your hands transfer to your wound.”
What if you’re reading this after you’ve already done a bunch of scratching? See a healthcare provider ASAP if you start to notice symptoms like:
- Redness or streaking that extends the site of the bite.
- Pus or drainage from the bite.
- Warmth around the area of the bite.
- Chills and/or fever.
Though rare, some people experience more extreme allergic reactions to mosquito saliva. Seek treatment immediately if you have swelling in your mouth or throat, or if you have difficulty breathing. You could also experience:
- Changes in skin color, texture or temperature at the site of the bite.
This allergy, known as skeeter syndrome, can develop suddenly, even if you’ve never had a particularly negative reaction to mosquito bites in the past.
See a healthcare provider if you start to notice symptoms of an infection of a disease carried by a mosquito. Symptoms may include:
“If you’ve visited a part of the world currently known to have active mosquito-transmitted diseases, be sure to tell your doctor where you’ve been,” Dr. Piliang advises. “This will help ensure that they can make an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible.”