If you need more proof that girls run the world, check this out: It’s only the female mosquitoes that bite you. That’s right. Each mosquito bite you’ve ever gotten came from the ladies of the mosquito world.
Human blood isn’t “food” for all mosquitoes, as people commonly think, but is actually part of the breeding process. Female mosquitoes use your blood to get the necessary iron and protein to lay their eggs, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
In short, each time a mosquito feeds off you, your blood is contributing to a new generation of the mosquito population. Let that sink in.
The Science Behind a Mosquito Bite
But that’s only part of the annoyance. The main problem? The itchy, red, inflamed bump mosquito bites leave on your skin.
Mosquitoes have a mouth that specializes in digging into human skin and sucking out the blood. In order to drink it, they use saliva to thin out the blood.
It’s the mosquito’s saliva that causes your skin to itch. Your immune system recognizes it as a foreign pathogen, so it attacks the “invading” cells. This causes inflammation, resulting in the inflamed red bump that you’ll want to scratch for days.
Are Mosquito Bites Dangerous?
Mosquito bites are typically harmless (besides the itching), but they can cause some issues. Some people may have allergic reactions to mosquito bites, just like when people have reactions to bee stings.
An allergic reaction is essential an “overreaction” from the immune system, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. An allergic reaction to a mosquito bite may cause blisters, hives, and even anaphylaxis, but that’s rare. (Learn more about what happens to the body during an allergic reaction here.)
Another potential problem from these pesky insects is the spread of disease, such as malaria, Zika virus, and West Nile virus. Many diseases transmitted by mosquitoes do not have treatments or vaccines, and the so best solution is to prevent the mosquito bite in the first place. (That’s easier said than done.)
The outbreak of West Nile virus in 2012 is a good example of how devastating mosquito-borne illness can be: There were 5,675 reported cases of West Nile in the main 48 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tragically, this resulted in 286 deaths.
How to Treat a Mosquito Bite
If you’ve got a run-of-the-mill mosquito bite (without symptoms of an infection or allergic reaction), you can treat these bumps at home with a combination of patience, discipline, and hydrocortisone.
Here’s what to do:
Wash the bite with soap and water.
Apply an anti-itch cream (such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone). This can suppress the immune response that tells your brain to itch.
Resist the urge to scratch. Itching can worsen inflammation, prolong the inflammatory response, or increase your risk of infection. Plus, the intense itching may lead to bleeding and scarring.
Try an ice pack to soothe the itch and possibly reduce inflammation.
Be on alert for symptoms of an allergic reaction or infection. Warning signs include fever, shortness of breath, or vomiting. If you notice these symptoms, call your doctor or head to the ER immediately.
And next time, don’t forget the bug spray. Look for a can containing DEET that’s registered as an Environmental Protection Agency insect repellent.