Summer and insect bites

by Dr Laleh Lohrasbi

Imagine desperately waiting for the beautiful warm summer days, relaxing in the garden and enjoying summer evenings with friends and family. You manage to get everything just right when all of a sudden these tiny annoying creatures remind you that you can’t have everything. Summer comes and among all the pleasure, it also brings painful and itching stings of insect bites.

The guilty insects are female mosquitoes looking for blood to develop their eggs. When the female mosquito’s sting inserts into the skin, its saliva passes through in order to prevent blood from clotting. Many of the proteins found in mosquito’s saliva may cause immune reactions (allergic reactions).

People show different reactions depending on the amounts of bites an individual receives during their life. The allergic reactions tend to decrease in intensity and frequency after being bitten by mosquitoes over many years and that is why inflammation of the bitten point becomes less severe in adults in comparison to  children.


Why some people are prone to mosquito bites more than others?

It is true that some people are more susceptible to mosquito bites. Much research has been undertaken to find the reason. In conclusion it can be said that mosquitoes are attracted to certain chemical compounds which are found on the surface of an individual’s skin. These chemicals trigger the mosquitoes’ sense of smell and persuade them to land.  Some of these chemicals and compounds include high concentration of steroids and cholesterol, uric and lactic acid and carbon dioxide. Whilst these compounds are found on all skin types, they increase in some people: exercise produces excess lactic acid on the skin or some people produce more exhaling carbon dioxide (pregnant women exhale 21 percent more carbon dioxide than others). Heat is another magnet for mosquitoes. People with warmer skin attract more insects.

Some researchers believe that blood group type is an important factor. People with different blood types give out different markers on their skin. Those with O blood group suffer more from insect landings than others.


An insect bite often causes a small lump, which is usually very itchy. A small hole (the actual bite) may also be visible. The lump may have an inflamed (red and swollen) area around it that is filled with fluid. This is called a weal. The bump that results from a bite can appear immediately or may take up to two days to appear. The higher the sensitivity of skin towards mosquito bites, the larger the area of itching. Insect bites usually clear up within several hours.


Keeping the mosquitoes away

Having been around for 170 million years, almost 200 known species of these mosquitoes clearly aren’t going to disappear any time soon. But we can minimise their impact.
To decrease the amount of mosquitoes around the house one should try to eliminate their supplies and favourite things and add odours that they do not like.

Standing water is the best breeding ground for the mosquitoes, so taking care of objects which may hold rain water such as clogged gutters, the crevices of plastic toys, garbage cans, uncover rain barrels and bird baths is very important. Also make sure to empty any buckets of water after using them. Planting some greenery such as marigolds, catnip and rosemary in the garden or placing them around the house generate odours that are unpleasant to mosquitoes and will keep them away. These are all effective but taking other precautions may be helpful too:

  • Burning citronella candles around the house especially when in the garden at night. Mosquitoes hate citronella. Make sure you create a ring of lit citronella candles around wherever you are planning to be when you are outside.
  • Mosquito netting can be a good choice for places with different kinds of insects if you can keep the inside of the net isolated.
  • Rub pennyroyal oil, lemon eucalyptus oil or apple cider vinegar on your exposed skin to keep the mosquitoes away. You can also put five drops of the oil in 1 cup of water, then put the mixture in a plastic spray bottle and give yourself two or three good sprays before going outside.
  • Avoid wearing bright flashy coloured clothing, perfumes, hairsprays and other cosmetics. These all can attract mosquitoes. Dress in dull-coloured, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks – keeping your skin covered will deter mosquitoes and make it more difficult for them to bite you.
  • Trade insect repellents can be useful too when natural remedies are not available. These products act in the same way and have odours that keep the mosquitoes away. The NHS suggests repellents that contain diethyltoluamide (DEET) to be the most effective type.


We have all heard of some household remedies for treating bite spots such as rubbing a bar of soap or vinegar on the spot or applying nail polish, toothpaste, hair spray, honey, under arm deodorant, bleach or even tea, but the fact is that even if they seem to be helping to reduce the pain or itching, no scientific proof is available to back them up. All these items may increase the risk of developing an infection. The NHS suggests treating minor bites by:

  • washing the bite with soap and water
  • placing a cold compress (a flannel or cloth soaked in cold water) over the affected area to reduce swelling
  • not scratching the bite
  • Taking painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen if in pain or if the bite is swollen.
  • If after being bitten by an insect blisters (small pockets of fluid) have appeared it is recommended not to burst them as they may become infected.
  • Blisters do not often cause pain unless they rupture (burst), exposing the new skin underneath. Using an adhesive bandage (plaster) can protect the blistered areas.

If blisters become infected GPs may prescribe oral antibiotics.

Have a mosquito free summer!


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