How to Treat Mosquito Bites and Recognize Infections

Mosquito bites—they're itchy, bumpy, and in very rare cases can become infected. What can you do to relieve uncomfortable symptoms and recognize infected bites so that you can better treat them?

how to treat a mosquito bite
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Mosquito Bite Symptoms: A Spectrum

Nearly everyone is allergic to mosquito bites to some degree. In most cases this might mean an itchy bump, which might turn red. And while a small segment of the population has no reaction, a small percentage can experience severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis).

An infected mosquito bite can lead to significant redness and swelling and feel hot to the touch. It's rare, but if left untreated, infected bites can develop cellulitis or abscesses.

Treatment

Here's what to do to treat the itch and typical reaction. These steps will also help prevent your mosquito bite from becoming infected.

  • Avoid scratching: Scratching provides only temporary relief and scratching too much can result in breaking the skin. Once you break the skin you may start bleeding and run the risk of infection.
  • Use lotion: There are a few over-the-counter anti-itch lotions that might help alleviate the itching of the common mosquito bite. The most effective lotions contain one or more of these ingredients: calamine, diphenhydramine (Benadryl), or hydrocortisone.
  • Cold compresses: Ice packs may help alleviate itching. The ice constricts blood vessels in the area, which blocks blood flow to and from the bite. Whenever you use ice for any injury or ailment, keep the ice on for only about 15 minutes and don't put ice or bags containing ice directly on the skin. Putting ice on the skin for too long can result in frostbite.
  • Oral antihistamines: If you have serious allergic reactions to mosquito bites or you have a lot of bites, you might try oral antihistamines containing diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine maleate, loratadine, or cetirizine. Which of these works best for you will take a little trial and error to figure out.

The Dangers of Mosquito Bites

Mosquitos are vectors for certain diseases, some of which can be deadly. Within the United States, the most common and dangerous mosquito-borne disease is West Nile virus. Outside the U.S., the list includes dengue fever, malaria, and yellow fever as well as West Nile.

Most mosquito-borne diseases look a lot like the flu when they start. Symptoms can show up anywhere between two days to two weeks after a mosquito bite.

If you know you've been bitten by a mosquito and you develop any of the following, see a doctor:

If you don't know you were bitten by a mosquito, you might not take these symptoms as seriously as you should. But if you experience any of the symptoms listed above, make sure to pay extra attention during mosquito season, which starts in summer and runs through early fall in most of North America, excluding the southernmost states.

Prevention

In the case of mosquitoes, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. But since mosquitos are more common in warmer seasons when you want to spend time outdoors, there are some precautions you can take:

  • Consider timing: Mosquitoes are most active—and most likely to bite—during sunrise and sunset. If possible, avoid being out at those times.
  • Use repellents: There are several types of mosquito repellents available on the market—including natural options—but DEET has been shown to be the most effective at keeping mosquitoes and other biting insects at bay.
  • Wear proper clothing: Long sleeves and spraying your clothing with repellent can be very effective protection, but note, permethrin is a repellent made for clothing that should never be applied directly to the skin.
  • Get rid of standing water: Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, so getting rid of any buckets, puddles, or untreated pools will help cut down on mosquitoes in your area.
  • Install or fix your window screens: Mesh screens allow air to come in but keep bugs out.
  • Get clean: Mosquitoes that hatch in the neighbor's yard are just as likely to bite you as they are to bite them. A neighborhood cleanup project in early spring can help get rid of standing water and mosquito breeding grounds.

A Word From Verywell

In most cases, mosquito bites are more frustrating then serious. Unless you develop the outlined symptoms or an infected bite, simple home remedies and a bit of patience will go a long way.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Fostini A, Golpanian R, Rosen J, Xue R, Yosipovitch G. Beat the bite. Itch. 2019;4(1):e19. doi:10.1097/itx.0000000000000019

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevent mosquito bites. Updated April 22, 2019.

  4. Seattle Children's Hospital Research Foundation. Mosquito-borne diseases from travel.