Now that I live in Florida and the mosquitoes are practically feasting on
me every day, this is a question that I ponder now more than ever.
First of all, only female mosquitoes bite. Furthermore, when a female
mosquito bites you, she is actually not biting you at all. What happens is this:
Her large needle-like mouth part, called a proboscis, probes your skin when she
lands on you looking for a blood vessel. When she finds one, she sucks out some
blood, leaving behind a little of her saliva, which acts as an anticoagulant as
she is sucking up your blood and allows her to feast more efficiently. Our body
has a natural immune response to the foreign mosquito saliva and creates
histamines, thereby causing the skin around the bite to itch.
A mosquito bite doesn’t always itch right away. Sometimes it can take a
couple of hours to notice you’ve been bitten. Interestingly, some people have
been bitten so much that they have developed an immunity to the bug bites —
meaning they have no reaction at all. (I would think with the bites covering
most of my body most of the time, I would be one of those people; not so, not
Mosquito bites that itch, though annoying, are actually a good thing,
because without them, we may not even know that we’ve been bitten. Why do we
need to know that we’ve been bitten, you may ask? Because mosquitoes can carry
malaria, encephalitis and West Nile virus. Only the itch might tip us off to a
potential cause should we come down with one of those conditions.
Occasionally, mosquito bites can do more than just cause us to itch. I have
a friend whose son was bitten on his palm and it swelled up so badly that his
fingers started to turn blue from lack of oxygen. She had to take him to the
emergency room to get the swelling to go down. My own son had a mosquito bite
that blew up so big, it look like he had a cyst growing out of his forearm. My
pediatrician told me to give him Benadryl and to watch for worsening. Luckily,
within 24 hours, it started to get better. (That was the night I found out that
Benadryl, which usually brings on sleepiness, can have quite the opposite effect
on some kids, judging by his 11 p.m. bouncies the night of the incident).
So now that you know why, what can you do to help ease the itchiness
(besides scratching, which will only make it worse, and can make the bite more
susceptible to infection)?
Chanie Kirschner is part of MNN's advice team and has spent most of her journalism career writing
advice columns on a number of topics. Kirschner loves Reeses' peanut butter cups, a good chick flick,
country music, and of course, giving advice. She lives in New Jersey with her
husband Michael, and their baby Jakie.