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Taking the Itch Out of Mosquito Bites
Always try to take precautions to prevent your children from getting bitten by mosquitoes: dress them in long-sleeve shirts and pants, apply mosquito repellent to exposed skin, and stay indoors at dawn and dusk. However, despite all these safeguards, your children may get bitten. Here are some tips for taking the itch out of mosquito bites.

Why do mosquito bites itch?
When a mosquito bites, it draws a little of your blood for a meal and injects a little of its saliva into your skin. The saliva has chemicals that prevent your blood from clotting, so the mosquito can take its meal. But your body also develops a small allergic reaction to these chemicals, releasing a substance called histamine that causes redness, swelling and itching at the site of the bite.

Does scratching a mosquito bite help?
Though scratching may feel good for a little while, it actually causes your skin to release more histamine, causing more redness, swelling and itchiness. Also, scratching can cause the bites to become infected. It's best to avoid scratching, as the swelling and itchiness will go away on its own more quickly.

How can you relieve the itching of mosquito bites?

Here are the basic steps for treating them:

1. Clean bites: Use soap and cool water. Hot water can increase the itchiness. Gently pat dry. Don't rub, because that will cause more itching.

2. Put something on the bite to take away the itch: There are different home remedies and over-the-counter creams and lotions. These can be dabbed on the mosquito bites, but keep them away from your child's eyes. Among the home remedies are:
  • Soap: Moisten a bar, dab it on the bites and let it dry.

  • Baking soda: Make a paste of baking soda and water, dab it on the bites and let it dry.

  • A slice of lemon, liquid antacid medicine (such as Mylanta®), toothpaste, vinegar, meat tenderizer and salt water.

  • Ice: Apply an ice pack to the bite for several minutes.

Over-the-counter remedies include:
  • Aloe vera gel

  • Calamine or caladryl lotion

  • Hydrocortisone cream

  • Anesthetic cream (Orajel®, Anbesol®)

3. Consider an oral medication to reduce itching. These include:
  • An antihistamine, such as Benadryl®. This can be sedating, which may help your child sleep if the itching keeps him awake. For the daytime, ask the pharmacist about non-sedating allergy medicines.

  • Anti-inflammatory medicine—ibuprofen

When to get medical attention
In most cases, mosquito bites cause annoying itchiness for several days and then resolve on their own. However, keep an eye out for very rare but serious complications.

A child may develop a severe allergy to a mosquito bite. If a large swelling occurs and there's any sign that your child is having swelling of the throat or difficulty breathing, contact Emergency Medical Services immediately.

If after several days the mosquito bite is becoming more red, swollen, and/or draining pus, this might be the sign of a skin infection. Contact your child's doctor. Antibiotic treatment may be necessary.

Mosquito bites can spread dangerous infections with viruses—namely, the West Nile Virus—that cause encephalitis, an infection of the brain. If within three days to two weeks after getting bitten your child develops severe headache, muscle aches, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, confusion or seizures, contact your child's doctor and/or Emergency Medical Services right away.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician