Don’t Scratch That Itch!

Clawing at bug bites can feel so satisfying, but it actually makes the itch worse and can lead to an infection.

With the warm summer weather and longer days comes more time spent outside — and more chances to get bit by mosquitos, ants or another perky critter. The red raised bumps of mosquito bites are caused by your body’s reaction to chemicals in the mosquito’s saliva, while fire ant bites welts are actually caused by the ant’s venom injected into your skin.

When you scratch a bug bite, you agitate the venom or chemicals and make the itching worse. Your nails can also create cuts that lead to an infection, such as impetigo.

When you first notice a bite, wash it with soap and cold water. Apply over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to relieve the itching. If you have many mosquito bites, antihistamines such as diphenhydramine and anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can give you some relief as well.

Some people are also allergic to mosquitos and may have a more critical reaction, marked by lesions, hives, fever, joint and throat swelling, and trouble breathing (anaphylaxis). If you have an anaphylactic symptoms, call 911. If you are having a prolonged or severe reaction to bug bites, talk to your physician. An allergy and immunology specialist can help you figure out what’s wrong and how to control your symptoms.

Avoiding the Itch

One of the best ways to beat mosquito bites is to not get any at all. You also avoid the risk of contracting mosquito-borne diseases, including malaria and West Nile virus. There are ways to avoid mosquitos in the summer, including:

  • Noting the time. Mosquitos love feeding at night (between dusk and dawn). If you can, avoid spending time out of doors during peak mosquito time.
  • Using insect repellant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and synthetic oil of lemon eucalyptus to repel mosquitos. Read the label carefully to find out how long you are protected and how to use the product safely.
  • Taking cover. Long sleeves, long pants and socks cover the prime areas where mosquitos like to bite.
  • Controlling the mosquito population. Mosquitos breed in standing water, so patrol your property and neighborhood for any potential breeding grounds, including ponds, birdbaths or overturned buckets.

While most insect bites aren’t serious enough to merit a visit to a physician, you should always get medical attention if you’re bitten by a poisonous spider, if you have an allergic reaction to a bite, or if you get an infection or large skin reaction from the bite. To find your nearest Texas Health emergency department, visit TexasHealth.org/er-locations.

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