Why do mosquito bites itch?
According to Jonathan Day Ph.D., a mosquito researcher and professor of medical entomology at the University of Florida, "as part of the feeding process, all blood-feeding organisms introduce saliva into the wound." Adding that "proteins in a mosquito's saliva prevent blood clotting, which allows the mosquito to extract blood more quickly and efficiently. Once the mosquito has finished her meal and departed, her salivary proteins stay behind. Your immune system sees these proteins as a foreign substance and immediately attacks them with histamine."
Histamine is an immune chemical your cells release in response to the presence of an injury, allergens or other irritants. It's this histamine that causes the itching and swelling which some people experience following a mosquito bite - emphasis on some people. This is because, surprisingly, not everyone experiences an itchy reaction to mosquito bites. "For most people, the first time they are bitten by a type of mosquito, they get that reaction. But as you're bitten more, most people cease to have a reaction."
How to make mosquito bites stop itching
The best way to prevent itchy mosquito bites is to avoid getting bitten in the first place by using a good mosquito repellent. The good news about mosquito bites is that they tend to stop itching within two to three days. But if you don't want to wait that long, here are six simple ways to stop mosquito bites from itching:
1. Swab the bite with rubbing alcohol
To reduce itching and that histamine response, rubbing alcohol works really well. Alcohol clears away the proteins in the mosquito's saliva - what your immune system would normally react to with itching or swelling. "Rubbing alcohol also has a soothing and cooling effect," Jonathan says.
2. Apply ice, or a cold seltzer can
Anything sufficiently cold, like an ice cube can prevent swelling and should also provide temporary relief from itching. Ice won't remove or neutralize the saliva proteins the mosquito left behind, so your bite will start to itch again the moment you remove the cool source. But, if you are in agony and want a respite, ice is an effective option. You can also use a strap-on ice pack if you have a number of bites in a concentrated area.
3. Dab on calamine lotion
Calamine lotion can be soothing. This pink-hued, OTC (over-the-counter) topical treatment contains zinc oxide, which has long been known to have anti-itch properties. The downside is that calamine needs to be reapplied several times a day to keep the itch away.
4. Pop an oral antihistamine
Most OTC allergy drugs, such as Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec work in part by turning off your body's histamine response, which is why they are called antihistamines. Since this histamine response causes the bite-related swelling and itching, these drugs can provide major relief, according to resources from the University of Washington. If you're dealing with multiple bites and dabbing on calamine isn't getting the job done, or you're headed somewhere where having legs slathered in pink cream isn't appropriate, an oral antihistamine is a better option.
5. Reach for baking soda
Combine baking soda with a little water - just enough to form a paste. Apply it to your bites, which should help you experience a relief in itching. Should you have to endure many bites, you could add a quarter of baking soda to a bath to quell the itch.
6. Slather on hydrocortisone cream
This cream is anti-inflammatory and will help keep the swelling down. It has also been shown to relieve itching. Apply 0.5% or 1% hydrocortisone cream a few times a day to relieve your itch.