Can't sleep, mosquitoes will get me
September 14, 2010 7:54 PM   Subscribe

When will I react less to mosquito bites, if ever? And what, if anything, can I do for the short term?

I grew up in California with minimal exposure to mosquitoes, moved to Texas a month ago and it's been miserable getting bitten all the time. I'm waking up itchy in the middle of the night, and getting over 20 huge ugly welts on my legs on any given day that no one else seems to get. It's starting to make me feel like a crazy person because I don't feel like I have many good options.

At this point I'm hoping this just cures itself over time. People who grew up around mosquitoes barely seem to react, so I'm hoping I will stop reacting someday too, but I'm not sure. Do you need to be bitten more as a kid? Does it take more than one season? If I have some sort of hypersensitivity, will I never get over the bites?

I know the long term strategies; eradicate water and hiding places, bat box, netting on vents and new weather stripping, possibly a net on my bed if I can't keep them out of the house.

Short term, should I tough it out or start applying DEET daily? I do not want one of the many lovely brain infecting viruses they carry, but I also don't want to stink of DEET all day and damage all my furniture and clothes because I went outside for a grand total of 30 minutes.
posted by slow graffiti to Health & Fitness (45 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
My husband and daughter get crazy itchy welts when they get bit, while I get a small bump and mild itching. It's genetic. Benadryl helps a lot.
posted by Ruki at 8:01 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, I feel for you! I grew up/lived most my life in Oregon, also mostly without mosquitoes, then started spending time in the deep south and in Canada, and OUCH!

I am still almost as sensitive now as I was 5 years ago ... perhaps you won't be. Some tips though: Dress in light colored clothing, layered if possible, or thick enough to prevent some bites. Spray clothing with repellant if desired (I cant stand to). Use a deet cream rather than an oil on skin (when needed/desired).

Go outside during wind (they are weak fliers), or mid-day, or late night. Net Gazebos are your best friend for getting outside!

And once you are bitten, use AfterBite, it helps a lot.

Hope others have better ideas.
posted by batikrose at 8:02 PM on September 14, 2010

I grew up in Houston, where the mosquitos carry off small dogs, and haven't noticed any change in my reaction to bites over time. I still get bitten, it still itches like crazy, I still get the same (usually about 1 cm) welts. So I doubt you'll get desensitized. (Though I'm not sure I've ever woken up from itching, so that may be something you get used to.)

It may be that you're more attractive to mosquitoes than the people around you, or you may be hypersensitive. How big and red are your bites? Scratching does tend to make the itching worse, so if you can help it (using a bite neutralizing spray, slapping instead of scratching, etc) trying not to scratch is a good idea. It used to be that you could lessen your risk of mosquito bites by not going out at dusk, but since the Asian tiger mosquitoes have taken hold here, you're not safe at any time of the day.
posted by katemonster at 8:03 PM on September 14, 2010

Benedryl spray is really good for the itching.
posted by amethysts at 8:05 PM on September 14, 2010

Oh, also, I was thoroughly freaked out the first time my baby had a huge welt on her head from a mosquito bite. I thought my parents had dropped her on her head or something - until my husband told me he was highly allergic to mosquitoes. It sucks, but you're not alone in this. And to clairify, for my daughter, I use topical Benadryl to relieve the itching, and liquid Benadryl to relieve the swelling.
posted by Ruki at 8:05 PM on September 14, 2010

Tablespoon of apple cider vinegar every day will run them off. It's terrible, awful...but the sour only lasts a minute.
posted by notsnot at 8:06 PM on September 14, 2010

One trick that works for me is to put a little dab of superglue on the bite as soon as I notice it. That seems to "freeze" the bump at that size, before it gets enormous -- if you glue it right after you squash the mosquito, sometimes it doesn't develop a bump at all. You can peel the superglue off the next day.
posted by vorfeed at 8:08 PM on September 14, 2010

People who grew up around mosquitoes barely seem to react

Sorry friend, that's not always the case. Like many allergic reactions, sometimes you can't just build up an immunity to iocane powder mosquito bites. I grew up is swampy Fayetteville, NC, where I got silver dollar-sized welts on my limbs all damn summer. What has all my suffering gained me? Nothing! Even in New Yawk City, I'm a bug magnet for miles around.

Use tiger balm, hydrocortisone cream, and ibuprofen to reduce swelling. Buy those OFF! Clicker things to prevent future bites. Don't trust anything that glibly mentions citronella (it's barely used in pharmacy-grade products anymore), and start making your own candles from essence of citronella instead.

Good luck. Some lucky people outgrow their reactions to mosquitoes, but this never happened in my case. It's far better to have an preventative agenda than simply keeping your head down and hoping for the best.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:09 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hydrocortisone spray also works well to deal with the itching.

I live in mosquito country and feel like I'm constantly getting bitten, more so than my friends. So a while ago I went to the googles and found that apparently chemical markers secreted through your skin attract mosquitos. Some people secrete more of these markers, some less. Blood type also plays a role. More info.
posted by rancidchickn at 8:10 PM on September 14, 2010

I grew up in the land of mosquitoes and gnats, always got eaten alive, and always got horrible itchy, puffy welts. I never grew out of it. Thankfully I live in Chicago now where every living, biting creature dies for 8 months of the year and I get some peace.

This list of ways to repel mosquitoes might help you. I also have used Buzz Away bug spray with some success; it's "natural" so it's worth a try before dousing yourself in DEET.

Also, if you have any friends who smoke, try hanging out in their cancer clouds when you're outdoors. Cigarette smoke does a decent job of repelling the bugs.
posted by phunniemee at 8:12 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've lived in a number of mosquito ridden locations (Houston, Mobile, Savannah, Fairbanks Alaska, and yes, they are HORRIBLE there) and here is what I've learned to do about them.

I take garlic twice daily. There is nothing substantial that proves this helps, but I'm usually eaten alive and since taking garlic twice daily for several years, I'm not eaten quite so badly.

I take Benadryl if I do get bitten and it's bothering me badly. It's amazing but within minutes the itching goes away.

Other than that, the only other option is DEET which isn't the best for some people.
posted by magnoliasouth at 8:15 PM on September 14, 2010

I grew up with mosquitoes and my bites welt up like you describe. Nthing anti-itch cream or spray. I carry it around with me everywhere I go all summer in DC (as in: keys, wallet, cell phone, Benadryl tube). Apply it as soon as you feel a bite, and don't scratch! Not even once.
posted by juliplease at 8:17 PM on September 14, 2010

I've lived around mosquitoes all my life, and have always reacted violently to the bites. I remember one time a mosquito bit me in the middle of my forehead and the resultant swelling looked like someone had glued half a golf ball to my head. Sexy!

What helps: bug dope (I have used Off to good effect). I don't like the chemicals much, but they work. I only use the stuff when I'm going somewhere very buggy. Sometimes that is the back yard, unfortunately.

After getting bitten badly, I take Benadryl. For me, it's the only antihistamine that reduces the swelling and itching, but it definitely makes me drowsy.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:22 PM on September 14, 2010

Some people are just more attractive to bugs. If you are desperate and don't have anything like Benadryl or hydrocortisone spray, a dab of deodorant always seems to ease the swelling and itching for me. My mother always keeps a tube of Mennen Speed Stick handy in the summer for just this purpose.
posted by beandip at 8:23 PM on September 14, 2010

People who grew up around mosquitoes barely seem to react

No. I didn't grow up around mosquitoes at all, but they don't bother me much. Didn't when I used to spend several weeks a summer here in the midwest, and don't now that I live here year-round. I have one kid who's more or less immune like me (maybe gets one or two really crazy bites a summer) and one who probably, we should have left in California when we packed up and moved to Minnesota. Poor kid looks like the guy from Mask all summer.

Don't scratch, is the biggest key. So do anything you can do in terms of antihistamines or whatever else to keep you from scratching. If I can get topical benadryl on my sensitive kid before she gets to scratching, she's okay, but if I can't, forget about it: big old giant lump of scabby mess. And she's too old for me to be on top of her 24/7 and too young to really be conscious of her actions. You're not, so don't scratch. DON'T SCRATCH.
posted by padraigin at 8:27 PM on September 14, 2010

It's been 30 years and it hasn't gotten any better for me. I did, after a very long time, find that Benadryl fixes it right up, and works for a little over 24 hours. Hyrdocortisone cream doesn't even work long enough on me to last until the oral Benadryl kicks in.

FWIW, I grew up in the south being bitten by mosquitoes pretty much every day during summer, so it's not a matter of getting enough when you're a kid. For some reason, they find my blood particularly delectable. Some people just aren't very allergic to mosquito spit.
posted by wierdo at 8:33 PM on September 14, 2010

If you run mosquito bites under hot water (as hot as you can stand without actually being scalding) for about five or ten seconds, they'll stop itching for several hours. I think it works better than the Benadryl cream stuff, though depending on location it can be difficult to maneuver the bites under a tap.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:33 PM on September 14, 2010

The only person I know who developed an immunity to mosquito bites was my great-uncle, William Horsfall [pdf], an etymologist who specialized in mosquitoes.
posted by Lucinda at 8:34 PM on September 14, 2010

It varies entirely the variety of mosquito for me. In california, oregon, and the middle east, I don't get welts. In Hawaii, they swell up to quarter-sized and larger. Anyway, DEET works amazingly well, but is kind of disgusting. There are some natural ones that I'd feel a bit better about using long-term.
posted by devilsbrigade at 8:43 PM on September 14, 2010

I had absolutely no detectable reaction to mosquito bites at the end of a two month bicycle trip I led through New England in July and August.

It was just as bad as ever the next year, however.
posted by jamjam at 8:51 PM on September 14, 2010

When I first moved to Texas years ago, I found that tooth ache gel applied to bites numbed out the itch very effectively. Also, if the bites are all on your leg, make sure that you are not making the Texas newbie error of standing to close to fire ant holes-- those bastards are not kidding about protecting the nest.
posted by pickypicky at 9:04 PM on September 14, 2010

Grew up in Southern California where I THOUGHT I got bit a lot. Moved to Austin, TX three years ago, boy was I wrong. Without doing anything I go through summers here with at least 6-7 itchy, red welts on my legs. Notice I said at least, usually I have 10-20.

Bert's Bees Bug Repellent. When I remember to wear it, I am bite free. When I forget, I'm unhappy. I have yet to find something that does relieve the itching and I've tried a LOT of things. The really hot water trick given by strangely stunted trees works best for me. A lot of people recommended the Bert's Bees itchy stuff too but I couldn't decide if I didn't scratch because it didn't itch or because I didn't want it under my finger nails. YMMV

Good Luck! And welcome to Texas. Try not to get bit by a fire ant. Those send me to the hospital.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:09 PM on September 14, 2010

Mine have gotten worse over time, sorry to say. But has anyone mentioned the best nontoxic bug repellent in the world: Skin So Soft? (It has a fairly androgynous scent.)
posted by salvia at 9:55 PM on September 14, 2010

Native Texan, and I get big horrible bumps. My husband, a native of New Mexico, doesn't. I've been told by doctors that it's just my system's allergic reaction. I have lots of skin allergies. When I got scabies (not an STD, just a contagious bug), I went to three doctors before they could identify the welts because they were so extreme. I find the only thing that really works is staying indoors.

Recently a friend had me rub some leaves on myself and I didn't get any bites. I can't remember the proper name of the plant, but it's also called a beauty berry bush. They grow wild where I'm at, and hey, I'm willing to rub leaves over me if it will work.

Oh and I've tried the Burt's Bees after bite stuff and it didn't work at all. Haven't tried their repellent.
posted by threeturtles at 9:56 PM on September 14, 2010

You can preemptively take Claritin (or it's generic equivalent) and then your bite won't swell up and itch so much. But you have to take it prior to the bites.
posted by pmb at 9:58 PM on September 14, 2010

NThing If you run mosquito bites under hot water (as hot as you can stand without actually being scalding) for about five or ten seconds, they'll stop itching for several hours

I call this the Scalding Technique--but don't actually scald yourself! It releases all the histamines at once, which is super itchy for a few seconds and then...Sweet Relief...ahhhh. Lasts a few hours and then I can sleep.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:06 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've always been a mosquito magnet. I once had to see a medic in the field on an exercise in Virginia. It was awful. I had bites in unspeakable places, and on my face and lips. I hate DEET and it's smelliness. I found that after the bites simple aloe vera gel worked wonders on the swelling. It was like night and day. Highly recommend. Benadryl is good also, as many have pointed out here.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:31 PM on September 14, 2010

When I lived in the Everglades, the two most common recommendations were vitamin B12 and garlic.

The version of the "Scalding Technique" that I learned was to use your fingernails to mark little "X"s in the center of the bitten area. It works relatively well for me. The juice from the leaves of an aloe vera plant also work well, and they're easy plants to have around.
posted by aniola at 12:48 AM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've found that I react to bites for my first month or two in any new location. After that they're not so bad. Others have said that doesn't apply to them, so maybe it's an individual thing, and you just need to wait and see.

Living in areas with high rates of dengue and malaria, we used to be just a little bit obsessive about long pants and shirt sleeves (my partner also often wore a silk scarf in the evenings). We tried to minimize the insecticide use - largely because DEET may not be healthy in high concentrations or for long term use.
posted by Ahab at 2:35 AM on September 15, 2010

Avon's bug guard plus. Smells good and doesn't dry the skin. You might also try having a fan blowing just over you at night to discourage them.
posted by lemniskate at 5:34 AM on September 15, 2010

The newer formulations of DEET, which are well below 100% strength, work well without side effects or danger. My favorite is Cutter's unscented Skinsations Ultra Light, which doesn't make me feel like I need to shower to remove it. Even the unscented formulations of the Off brand repellents smell horrible to me, and I've had trouble with 100% DEET used for backpacking, but no problems at all with nightly use of the Skinsations Ultra Light. (I don't spray it on my hands or face, and we always apply it only after stepping outside.)

Citronella makes my lungs feel like they're burning, thanks to several years of using it as a repellent (one part citronella oil to nine parts alcohol in a spray bottle). I don't know if it's a true allergy, but I can't be around it at all now. The original formulation of Skin So Soft, in spite of its reputation, is sadly ineffective against mosquitoes, while a newer formulation is citronella-based so I can't use it.

Don't expect great results on the mosquito control front from a bat box. It would be so cool if bats moved into our bat house, but they never have in sixteen years, in spite of our moving it around. We see bats every night, but they don't want to live in our bat house. We suspect some of them may be hiding in our shed sometimes though.
posted by Ery at 5:42 AM on September 15, 2010

I feel for you! When I was 14 I moved from Norway to NYC. That summer I spent a weekend at a campsite somewhere in upstate NY and got absolutely eaten alive - to the point that I was sick, in bed, throwing up, for 3 days straight afterwards. Apparently I had zero immunity to the NY mosquitoes and it was just horrible.

I call myself a human bug repellent - for everyone around me. If there's a mosquito within 3 miles of me, it makes a beeline for my skin. People just don't believe me until they see me completely swollen up after a simple dinner outside after which they have no bites at all, maybe one at the most.

DEET does work the best, but I refuse to wear it unless I'm doing heavy-duty hiking. I've had some luck w/some local concoctions that use citronella oil and a few other things, but really, not much. What I do when I get bitten is a variant of the nail X thing that aniola mentioned - I slap my bites really hard. It relieves the itching for quite some time, and frankly the pain of the slap is nothing compared to the incredible discomfort you get from being EATEN ALIVE by mosquitoes.

However: I have actually noticed over the last 2 years that I'm getting bitten less, and my reactions are less severe. I'm guessing that I'm finally developing immunity, at least to the local skeeters. I'm 39, so it's been a long time coming.

I feel for you - good luck...
posted by widdershins at 5:51 AM on September 15, 2010

Many years ago I moved from the UK to the US. I spent a couple of years being horribly affected by mosquito bites. Sometimes a bite on the back of my leg would swell so much that I couldn't bend my knee enough to sit comfortably in a chair. Over the course of no more than 5 years my body must have acclimatized to the "local" mosquitoes and while they still swell a little, it's now far more manageable.

In the interim, what I did was to check/change my diet. I remember something about the levels of CO2 that your body emits being one difference that makes different people more susceptible to being bitten. Less soda/sugar helps. More garlic also helps, but maybe for different reasons.
posted by devbrain at 6:47 AM on September 15, 2010

After 10 years of living in NC (after a life time in So Cal.) I am only now getting less reaction to individual bites-- my first 3 years were absolutely miserable. I developed an allergic reaction to DEET after the first 2 years so that isn't even an option for me. What works is:

1) Not going out during dusk or dawn.
2) Covering up (I like going barefoot but then I end up with bites all over my feet.)
3) Spraying my clothes and shoes with picardin-based sprays.
4) When I do get bit, scrubbing the fresh bite with hydrogen peroxide. If you get the bite as soon as possible and you really give it a good soaking/scrubbing this makes the itch go away temporarily and it causes the bump to be less severe and heal faster.
5) If I do get a maddening itch, I use the hot water treatment (which also works for poison ivy rashes.)
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:05 AM on September 15, 2010

Another highly sensitive individual who grew up in a mosquito infested part of the world, checking in. It's genetic. There's nothing you can do.

And, yes, sometimes I am even woken up by the itch.

NThing If you run mosquito bites under hot water (as hot as you can stand without actually being scalding) for about five or ten seconds, they'll stop itching for several hours

I also find that a good scrub with soap in a hot shower works. Part of that is the "scald" technique, I'm sure, and it's possible that the soap part is just a placebo. But it is a placebo I will accept.
posted by Sara C. at 7:52 AM on September 15, 2010

Ammonia water (3-4%) acts as a counter-irritant. (its the active ingredient in AfterBite)

Rubbing alcohol also works as a mild counter-irritant (and weak anesthetic).. and its cheap!
posted by herox at 8:01 AM on September 15, 2010

Native Texan, grew up in Houston. Every year, the first time I get bitten, I have an awful reaction: quarter-size welts that turn purple and last for weeks. After that episode, I just get little ones for the rest of the season.

If I go somewhere else and get bitten (like when I was in Mississippi last year), I will have that same big reaction again; my doctor tells me I may be sensitive to each different type of mosquito, and have to get that over with for each season or locale.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:44 AM on September 15, 2010

Thanks for all the tips. Topicals are as good as useless on me once a bite is itchy enough to notice, so I will start a regimen of prophylactic oral anti-histamines and maybe the hot water or Tiger Balm trick instead of hydrocortisone cream/spray.

Sad to know I will probably react this bad as long as I'm here! I thought you native non-West Coasters had special mosquito immunity. My parents are both Midwestern and totally impervious to bites, and I guess I did not get those genes.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:59 AM on September 15, 2010

I am also in the delicious-to-mosquitos club. For sleeping, I like to use regular Avon Skin So Soft (I use the spray) all over my body. It doesn't contain DEET and has a pleasant (but very specific) smell. Apparently it wears off after 4 hours, because I often wake up itching exactly four hours later. Also sleeping with a fan blowing on me seems to help. Oh- and my husband sleeping next to me? Never gets bit at all.
posted by jrichards at 10:49 AM on September 15, 2010

I'm from California and I have the same problem living in Louisiana. It got really bad after one evening when I just got annihilated.

My suggestion is to buy bug spray and keep it *everywhere*. There are some less-gross smelling ones for regular use - Cutter Family, plus a nice soft spray one I bought recently. But if I know I'm going to be in serious mosquito territory, it's all about Off Deep Woods.

I find that rotating through different anti-itch creams helps their effectiveness. I always keep some in my purse - better when you get to them early. Cortisone is pretty good (cream is easier to deal with than ointment). Camphor-phenique smells gross but it works. Also I like Active-On, which comes in a stick so your hands don't get messy. I also have an rx steroid cream from my dermatologist.

Also I just suck it up and play the Debbie Downer role with my friends...if it's buggy I suggest we sit inside at restaurants, etc.
posted by radioamy at 1:14 PM on September 15, 2010

I've been told that apple cider vinegar, applied topically, is good for the itch. I haven't tried it.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 5:08 PM on September 15, 2010

I generally react to mosquito bites with big, itchy, painful welts, and if I get bit a lot, my ears ring, my eyes get red, etc. When I moved to an area where the mosquitoes are a different variety, I had little reaction to them the 1st year. This year, however, I had a really painful response, large welts, the usual.

In my experience, over the course of summer, as I get bitten, my reaction is reduced, though never gone. Benadryl, cortisone spray and swearing are my tools.
posted by theora55 at 5:12 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Claritin and Allegra did nothing for me. Neither did the "X" trick or scalding. Benadryl just made me fall asleep and I'd scratch in my sleep. OTC hydrocortisone stopped working years ago for me.

Now, the only thing that stops them is Off (for easy prevention, I carry around the wipes in my purse) and if I am bitten, a prescription strength steroidal cream. 3-4 applications of triamcinolone acetonide a day for 2 days and I don't get the half dollar welts any more. But I carry it on my person, always, and apply at the first sign of a mosquito bite.

See your doctor. At the very least you can ask for stronger anti-itch cream.
posted by kathryn at 11:42 PM on September 15, 2010

And get the mosquito net for your bed! They work. And you'll have piece of mind when you go to bed each night.
posted by kathryn at 11:46 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just jumping back in with a tip on mosquito nets. You can get permethrin treated ones from outdoor stores and travel/tropical medicine clinics. As mosquitoes come homing in towards you, and bump around against the net trying to find an opening, the permethrin kills them. That eliminates a whole lot of stray mosquitoes from inside your house, and saves you the pain of getting bitten when you get up during the night, or early in the morning.

On occasions when I haven't been able to get pre-treated nets, I've been able to get sachets of permethrin powder from the same travel/tropical med clinics, and on one occasion from a vet. It's poisonous when wet, so take care in dissolving it and soaking the net, but (according to the packets, anyway) fairly stable and safe once dry.
posted by Ahab at 2:39 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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