Mosquito Bites

Overview

What are mosquito bites?

Mosquito bites are small, raised bumps on the skin resulting from a female mosquito feeding on human blood.

Mosquitoes are small, flying insects. They have six legs and long mouthparts — used to feed on blood and nectar. Only female mosquitoes feed off of blood. Three different types of mosquitoes exist in various parts of the world: Aedes, Culex and Anopheles.

Often, mosquito bites don’t cause any lasting harm. They cause mild annoyance and irritation for a short period. However, mosquitoes are dangerous because they spread diseases that can be fatal.

Where are mosquitoes found?

Mosquitoes are often near water. They lay their eggs in shallow, stagnant water. The eggs are usually in marshes, ponds, lakes, children’s pools, the inside of tires, birdbaths and other containers with shallow water.

Why do mosquitoes bite?

Mosquitoes bite and suck blood for reproduction. Though male mosquitoes only eat flower nectar, female mosquitoes eat both flower nectar and blood. The females need the protein in blood to develop eggs.

What happens when a mosquito bites you?

Mosquitos have a long mouthpart (proboscis) that extends far beyond their heads. It looks like a tiny needle. When a mosquito bites you, it uses this mouthpart to pierce your skin, suck your blood and secrete saliva into your bloodstream.

Why do mosquito bites itch?

When a mosquito secretes saliva into your bloodstream, your body registers the saliva as an allergen. Your immune system then sends the chemical histamine to the area where the mosquito bit you to remove the allergen from your body. Histamine is what causes your mosquito bites to itch and swell. Most people have a mosquito bite allergy.

How do mosquitoes spread disease?

Mosquitoes spread disease through their bites. Mosquitoes are vectors (living things that carry diseases between animals and humans). Vectors often carry infections through blood. Many of the creatures classified as vectors are bloodsuckers. Other vectors include ticks, fleas and sandflies.

When a mosquito bites, it not only sucks blood but secretes saliva. This saliva enters your blood. There is an exchange of fluids between the mosquito and your bloodstream. An infected mosquito has fed off a person or animal with the disease. It then passes the infection on when it bites. Mosquitoes often feed in a method called sip feeding. Sip feeding means that the mosquito doesn’t just suck all of the blood it needs from one source — it takes multiple meals from multiple sources. Unfortunately, this exposes more people to infection.

What types of diseases can be spread by mosquito bites?

  • Chikungunya: Found in Africa, North and South America, Asia, Europe and the Indian subcontinent, chikungunya is a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Symptoms of this virus include fever, joint and muscle pain, headache, nausea, tiredness and a rash.
  • Zika: Found in Africa, North and South America, Asia and the Pacific region, Zika is a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquito. Once a person is infected, the virus can be transmitted from person to person through sex. Zika symptoms include a mild fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, a skin rash and irritated eyes. Zika can also impact an unborn child if the mother is infected while pregnant.
  • Dengue: Found in Africa, North and South America, Asia and Europe, dengue is a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The symptoms of dengue are similar to the flu. Other symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle pain and nausea.
  • West Nile virus: Found in Africa, North America, West Asia, Europe and the Middle East, West Nile virus is transmitted by the Culex mosquito. West Nile virus can be fatal. Symptoms of the most severe version of the virus can include headache, fever, a stiff neck, confusion, coma, convulsions and weakness of the muscles.
  • Malaria: Found in sub-Saharan Africa, malaria is a virus transmitted by the anopheles mosquito. Symptoms of malaria can include fever, headache and vomiting. Malaria can be fatal.
  • Yellow fever: Found in Africa and Latin America, yellow fever is a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Symptoms of yellow fever can include fever, headache, muscle and back pain, lack of appetite and vomiting. Yellow fever can be fatal.

Who is at risk of being bitten by mosquitoes?

Mosquitoes bite anyone. However, some factors might prompt mosquito bites. These include:

  • Wearing dark-colored clothing.
  • Wearing perfume.
  • Blood type.
  • Body temperature.
  • Visiting a region with active mosquito-transmitted diseases.
  • Spending time near stagnant water.

Symptoms and Causes

What does a mosquito bite look like?

After a female mosquito bites you, a small, raised bump forms. The raised bump may change colors, and you can sometimes see a small, dark spot in the center. That dark spot is where the bite occurred.

What causes a mosquito bite?

Mosquito bites are the result of a bite by a female mosquito. Male mosquitoes don’t bite. A female mosquito doesn’t necessarily bite you, but instead sucks blood as a part of their diet. The skin around this area is irritated, and a circular bump appears on the skin.

What are the symptoms of a mosquito bite?

The symptoms of a mosquito bite can vary. If the mosquito has a disease or an allergic reaction occurs, the symptoms could be more severe.

The common symptoms include:

  • Itchy and irritated skin.
  • A raised, circular bump on the skin where the mosquito bite occurred.

More severe symptoms can include:

  • An allergic reaction (hives, swollen throat, faintness and wheezing).
  • Infection of a disease carried by a mosquito (fever, headache, body aches, rashes, nausea, eye irritation and tiredness can accompany various diseases).

Management and Treatment

How are mosquito bites treated?

Mosquito bites typically don’t need treatment. Topical mosquito bite creams can relieve itchy skin and discomfort. However, see your healthcare provider if more severe symptoms develop after a bite (allergic reaction, fever, headache or body aches). Also, see a healthcare provider if you experience symptoms and have recently visited a place where mosquito-spread infections are common. Treatment will vary depending on the type and severity of the infection.

How do I stop mosquito bites from itching?

Don’t scratch your mosquito bites. You risk breaking your skin and exposing yourself to infection. If you accidentally break your skin, keep the area clean by washing it with soap and water and covering your mosquito bites with a bandage. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have an infected mosquito bite.

Mosquito bites only last a few days. However, there are many over-the-counter products or home remedies that can stop mosquito bites from itching.

While home remedies are safe for most people, it’s a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before trying some of the following options to get rid of your mosquito bites. You may be at risk of developing an allergic reaction on your skin.

  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines are a popular mosquito bite treatment. Histamine is a chemical created by your immune system. Your body releases histamine after it encounters an allergen. Histamine is what makes mosquito bites itch. You can take an antihistamine as a pill, or you can apply it directly to your mosquito bite as a cream or ointment.
  • Hydrocortisone: Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid combined with an anesthetic pain reliever. It relieves itching and swelling. You can apply it directly to your mosquito bite as a cream or ointment.
  • Ice: Ice can slow down the amount of blood that flows to an area. It reduces inflammation, pain, swelling and itchiness. Apply an ice pack covered in a light towel over the area for at least 10 minutes for mosquito bite relief.
  • Aloe vera: Aloe vera is a succulent plant. The gel in its leaves contains salicylic acid, which relieves itching and pain. You can apply aloe gel directly to your mosquito bite.
  • Chamomile tea: Chamomile tea contains dried chamomile flowers. The dried chamomile flowers contain terpenoids and flavonoids, which are natural chemicals that have antioxidant and antihistamine properties. Add a chamomile tea bag to water. Let the tea bag steep for at least 20 minutes until the water is a rich gold-brown color. Remove the tea bag from the water and squeeze the tea bag to remove excess water. Press the tea bag to your mosquito bites for at least 10 minutes, and then wipe your bites with a clean towel. Put the wet tea bag in a container in your refrigerator so that you can reuse it on your bites throughout the day.
  • Honey: Honey has many properties that relieve itching and pain. Honey contains an enzyme called catalase, which provides relief for minor inflammation. Put on enough unprocessed honey to lightly cover your mosquito bites. To avoid accidentally creating a sticky mess, you can also put a bandage on top of your honey-covered bites.
  • Oatmeal: Oatmeal contains gluten, which can soothe itchy mosquito bites. The best way to use oatmeal to treat your mosquito bites is to grind it into a fine powder (colloidal oatmeal) in a blender or food processor. Mix the oatmeal powder with warm water until it becomes a thick, sticky paste. Apply enough of the oatmeal paste to completely cover your mosquito bites. After at least 10 minutes, wipe off the paste with a clean towel.

Prevention

How do I prevent mosquito bites?

You can prevent mosquito bites in several ways. These include:

  • Eliminating any standing water.
  • Not traveling to an infected area.
  • Wearing a bug spray registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (typically containing DEET).
  • Wearing thick clothes, including long pants and long sleeves. Mosquitoes can bite through thin clothes.
  • Utilizing screens over windows and doors.
  • Staying indoors during the highest point of mosquito activity (dusk and dawn).
  • Treating clothing, tents and net coverings with chemicals that repel mosquitoes.
  • Sleeping under protective netting.

When visiting an area with an active mosquito-carried disease, it’s important to follow safety guidelines. It can be dangerous to travel to areas with active mosquito-carried diseases when pregnant. Transmission of the Zika virus to a pregnant woman can impact the fetus (possibly causing birth defects). The virus can also spread through sexual contact. It’s important to protect yourself and your partner if you’ve traveled to a region with Zika.

Bed bug bites vs. mosquito bites

Like mosquitoes, bed bugs feed off your blood and secrete saliva into your bloodstream. Bed bug bites look similar to mosquito bites. However, bed bug bites often exhibit a distinct line or zigzag pattern. Bed bugs are active at night, and they’ll bite your exposed skin while you’re sleeping, including your face, hands, arms, feet and legs.

If you’re suffering from bug bites over a long period, your healthcare provider can help you identify the type of bite.

Flea bites vs. mosquito bites

Fleas also feed off your blood and secrete saliva into your bloodstream. Flea bites look similar to mosquito bites and bed bug bites. Fleas travel by jumping, so their bites appear more random than bed bug and mosquito bites. You’re more likely to experience flea bites if you have dogs, cats or another pet that spends time outside.

If you’re suffering from bug bites over a long period, your healthcare provider can help you identify the type of bite.

Living With

When should I see a healthcare provider?

You should see a healthcare provider if you experience an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite or develop symptoms of a disease carried by mosquitoes. If you’ve visited a region with active mosquito-transmitted diseases and develop symptoms, see your healthcare provider.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Mosquito bites are an itchy, pesky reality when the weather is hot. In most cases, mosquito bites are ultimately harmless. But you shouldn’t scratch mosquito bites. You can relieve your itch with many over-the-counter or home remedies. Contact your healthcare provider if your bites last longer than a few days, continue to grow in number or if you develop an allergic reaction.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/15/2021.

References

  • American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Take a Bite Out of Mosquito Stings. (https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/taking-a-bite-out-of-mosquitoes) Accessed 10/26/2021.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevent Mosquito Bites. (https://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/prevent-mosquito-bites.html) Accessed 10/26/2021.
  • National Pest Management Association. Mosquitoes 101: A Guide to Mosquitoes and Mosquito Prevention. (http://www.pestworld.org/news-hub/pest-articles/mosquitoes-101/) Accessed 10/26/2021.
  • Shenefelt PD. Herbal Treatment for Dermatologic Disorders. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92761/) In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 18. Accessed 10/26/2021.
  • Singh S, Mann BK. Insect bite reactions. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23442453/) Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2013;79:151-164. Accessed 10/26/2021.
  • Uddin S, Li S, Hernandez C. Impact of Traditional Hispanic American Cultures on Healthcare Practices. (https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=2585&sectionid=211763701) In: Kelly A, Taylor SC, Lim HW, Serrano A. eds. Taylor and Kelly's Dermatology for Skin of Color, 2e. McGraw Hill. Accessed 10/26/2021.

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