6 Signs You Could Have a Mosquito Bite Allergy
Could you have a mosquito bite allergy? Discover the symptoms and treatment for this rare but serious condition.
Summertime brings many gifts—longer days, warmer weather, backyard barbecues…oh, and mosquitoes. While these tiny flying insects are simply a nuisance for most, for other people who experience allergic reactions, they can be a nightmare.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, contact with a mosquito must last at least six seconds in order for the classic itchy bump to occur. But your best bite prevention is to avoid contact in the first place, says Valencia Thomas, MD, a dermatologist at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). “You don’t know what reaction you’ll have, so it’s always a good idea to practice good protection when out in nature,” she says.
Wear protective clothing like long sleeves and pants, eat bug-repelling foods like garlic, use insect repellent, keep food scents and fragrances to a minimum, and limit exposure where mosquitoes thrive—in shady, wooded areas and stagnant water, particularly during the dusk and dawn hours. (Feel like you’re a natural mosquito magnet no matter what you do? Find out the 10 weird reasons you may be getting bitten.)
Could you have a mosquito bite allergy? Here’s what you need to know:
Most mosquito bite “allergies” actually aren’t allergies
For most of us, a mosquito bite is simply an itchy annoyance. “A normal reaction to a mosquito bite includes red, swollen, itchy bumps that occur within minutes of the bite and can linger for up to ten days,” says Kara Wada, MD, an assistant professor of allergy and immunology at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
More extreme symptoms, such as larger bumps and significant swelling, indicate what’s called a large local reaction—this is also known as skeeter syndrome, which is relatively rare. “When people say they are allergic, it’s mostly the large local reaction that they’re actually referring to,” says Nick Hartog, MD, an allergist at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor will take into account your symptoms, but there is no official test to detect mosquito bite allergies.
“Sometimes patients come in with the expectation that there will be some kind of testing involved, but there’s no commercially available test for a mosquito bite allergy,” says Dr. Hartog. “Our diagnosis is based on listening to a patient’s history and looking at pictures versus any particular blood or skin test.”
Treating mosquito bite reactions
As for treatment, that depends entirely on how much the mosquito bite symptoms are affecting you, says Dr. Hartog. “If it’s not bothering you, then there’s no reason for treatment,” he says. “But if it’s causing issues like swelling on your eyelid, or if the symptoms are uncomfortable and you are prone towards pretty severe reactions, we can do a daily non-sedating antihistamine like Claritin or Allegra; these can help with swelling and can reduce your risk of developing a reaction.”
Occasionally, topical or oral steroids like prednisone are prescribed, but “we try to…reserve those for only the most extreme cases because of the side effects involved.” In the case of a more serious systemic reaction, your doctor may prescribe you an EpiPen, an injection that contains epinephrine. “This is very rare, though; we really don’t see it as much for mosquitoes as we do for bees and wasps,” says Dr. Thomas. (For most mosquito bite reactions, follow these 6 dos and don’ts for the fastest recovery.)
The very rare mosquito bite allergy is a systemic reaction that occurs throughout the body. This type of life-threatening reaction is much more common with insects like bees and wasps, but if you experience any of the following symptoms after a bite you need to call 911 immediately, advises Dr. Thomas.
Suddenly breaking out into itchy, swollen, pale red bumps either in the area of the bite or all over your body could indicate an allergic reaction.
Swelling in mouth, lips, or throat
“Any sudden swelling in your lower face can be a sign of a serious reaction,” says Dr. Thomas.
If you suddenly feel nauseated as if you’re going to get sick after a bite, that can be another symptom of a serious reaction, says Dr. Thomas.
Feeling lightheaded and unsteady on your feet can indicate a systemic allergic reaction.
Breaking out into a fever is a signal that your body is fighting off an allergy. (Interestingly, this is the reason why fevers make you feel cold.)
A severe headache that comes on quickly could mean you’re having an allergic reaction, if it’s combined with other symptoms. If you’re not sure whether a mosquito bite was responsible, here are 20 more bizarre things you might be allergic to.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Take a Bite Out of Mosquito Stings”
- Valencia Thomas, MD, a dermatologist at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)
- Kara Wada, MD, an assistant professor of allergy and immunology at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Skeeter Syndrome Definition”
- Nick Hartog, MD, an allergist at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan