Mosquitoes are a vector for diseases – the most prevalent in Singapore is, of course, dengue. Since we live in the tropics, getting bitten by a mosquito is inevitable, and the itches (and scars) they create can drive people crazy.
But if you do get bitten, how do you get rid of that irritating itch? Most people will probably grab a tub of Tiger Balm or a bottle of Axe Oil to soothe that itch. But if you don’t have anti-itch creams or anti-histamines at hand, you can try these other proven methods:
Hot Water or Hot Spoon: Run very warm water (no hotter than a hot shower) over the bite for a few seconds. You can also use a warm compress for a few seconds, or place a hot spoon – such as one that you used to stir your coffee or tea – on the bite. That itching is caused by a protein that prevents clotting, and heat can totally destroy this protein; just be sure you don’t burn your skin.
Vinegar: Dabbing a drop of vinegar the bite can help reduce stinging and burning sensations. It’s also a natural disinfectant if you’ve been scratching too much.
Baking Soda: Mix baking soda with a little water and let the paste sit for 10 minutes before washing it away. This household alkaline can help neutralise the pH balance in the bite, providing itch relief. Many over-the-counter creams contain baking soda.
Adhesive Tape: Rather than soothing the itch, putting tape over a bite applies “counter tension” to reduce the urge to itch. If you want to try this method, use a plaster instead.
There are plenty of other home remedies you can try, including applying honey or aloe gel onto the bites.
Why do we itch, and why we shouldn’t scratch
These itches are our body’s immune reaction to the mosquito’s saliva, which is injected into the skin when they bite. The welts that appear on our skin is like an allergic reaction, because the saliva contains a protein that is foreign to our bodies. Our immune system then responds by producing histamine which causes that swelling and itch.
The length and severity of the itch vary depending on your sensitivity and the amount of saliva. Some people don’t react to a bite, while some become more over time. For the rest of us, a mosquito bite will always be an annoyance.
You don’t really want to scratch that itch, because it causes the skin to become even more inflamed and spreads the saliva, encouraging the body to release more histamine antibodies. Continued scratching can break your skin, causing an infection and long-term scarring.
Why are mosquitoes attracted to me?
We know that mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide, body odour, secretions, blood type, lactic acid, and beer. And they really do prefer some people to others – and unfortunately, it’s all in your genes.
Metabolic Rate: Since mosquitoes use CO2 as their primary means of identifying bite targets, your metabolic rate – or the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) your body releases as it burns energy – can make you more attractive to those bloodsuckers. Pregnant women and overweight or obese people tend to have higher resting metabolic rates, and drinking alcohol raises your metabolic rate.
Lactic Acid: Every time we exhale, we release chemicals like lactic acid, and mosquitoes are more attracted to people with a greater build-up of lactic acid on their skin. This explains why you get more bites after you’ve been exercising, because your blood will have more lactic acid. You also get lactic build-up from eating foods like pickled vegetables, beer, wine, kimchi, and fermented soy foods like soy sauce and miso.
Body Odour: Our sweat would be odourless without bacteria, but bacterial colonies build up if sweat is allowed to fester. Bacteria combined with sweat makes our scent more attractive to mosquitoes.
Secretions: Remember being told that you get more bites because your blood is ‘sweeter’? There may be some truths to that. About 80% of people secrete compounds known as saccharides and antigens through their skin. Mosquitoes are magnets for secretors, and there isn’t anything you can do to put yourself in the non-secretor category.
Blood type: There’s also evidence that those with Type O blood attract more mosquitoes more than those with Type A blood.
While you can’t change your body make-up, you can take steps like showering after being sweaty, and making sure you stay indoors whenever possible.
Preventing mosquito bites
Everybody should already know how to prevent mosquito bites, but here are a few tips just in case:
• Avoid dark clothing because mosquitoes spot hosts by comparing your silhouette to the horizon. Dark colours stand out, while light shades blend in. Wearing striped clothing also helps, since mosquitoes will see a carbon dioxide emission but won’t know where to land.
• Stay indoors during dusk and dawn when they’re most active
• Stay calm. Mosquitoes are drawn to higher carbon dioxide emissions, and being stressed increases more CO2. So when you get bit by one, keep calm, otherwise more mozzies might be on their way.