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Summer is by far my favorite season of the year. I like the warm temperatures, the longer, sunnier days, and the ability to spend more time by the lake. But my love for the season quickly expires when I find myself covered in itchy red lumps after spending a few minutes outside.
If you’re like me, you get frustrated with the number of mosquito bites that litter your body, making you want to itch the skin around the bite until you hit the bone. While the stitches alone can be annoying, it’s downright infuriating when I walk in with several new bright red welts while my friends exclaim they don’t have a single one.
Why is that? It’s not that we’re particularly unlucky. There are actually scientific reasons why mosquitoes distinguish certain people. Here’s exactly why mosquitoes bite and how you can become less of a target this summer. (You can also find.)
Why do mosquitoes bite?
Contrary to what you might think, mosquitoes don’t bite people for food, they feed on plant nectar. Only female mosquitoes bite, and they do so to receive the proteins from your blood needed to develop their eggs.
Why are some people more prone to bites?
Several factors explain why some people are more prone to mosquito bites than others:
Mosquitoes are very visual hunters when it comes to finding a human to bite. This means movement and dark clothing colors like black, navy blue and red can stand out against a mosquito. Research has shown that mosquitoes are more attracted to the color black, but there has been little additional research into why this is the case.
Mosquitoes use sight and smell to find hosts to bite. One of the fastest ways mosquitoes detect a person is through the carbon dioxide emitted when we breathe. According to a study published in the journal Chemical Senses, mosquitoes use an organ called the maxillary palp to detect carbon dioxide and can detect it from 50 meters away.
Because carbon dioxide is a huge attractor, people who emit more of it — taller people and people who breathe a lot when exercising — are more attractive to a mosquito.
Body odor and perspiration
Mosquitoes are attracted to more substances and compounds than just carbon dioxide. Mosquitoes can find people to bite by smelling substances on human skin and in sweat, including lactic acid, uric acid, and ammonia.
Researchers are still learning why certain body odors are more attractive to mosquitoes, but they know that genetics, bacteria on the skin, and exercise all play a role. Genetics impact the amount of uric acid released, while exercise increases lactic acid buildup.
A common belief is that mosquitoes are attracted to certain, considering that mosquitoes bite humans for their blood. Blood type is determined by genetics, and each blood type is created based on different sets of specific proteins, called antigens, on the surface of red blood cells. There are four main blood groups: A, B, AB and O.
Although there are no definitive conclusions as to which blood type is most attractive to mosquitoes, several studies have suggested that type O people are the most palatable to mosquitoes. A 2019 study observed the feeding behavior of mosquitoes when presented with different blood group samples and found mosquitoes fed from the type O feeder more than any other. A 2004 study also found that mosquitoes land on blood group O secretors (83.3%) much more than blood group A secretors (46.5%).
However, these studies are not definitive and much is still unresolved about mosquito blood type preferences.
In a small study, mosquitoes were observed to land on participants more frequently after drinking a small amount of beer. But before you give up on beer for good, know that the study only had 14 participants and found that mosquitoes may be only slightly more attracted to people who drank beer.
Why do some people swell more than others from mosquito bites?
Mosquito bites can range in size from small specks to large welts. why is this the case?
Bites affect people differently. The size and severity of a bite depends on how your immune system reacts to the saliva introduced by the mosquito when it bites. When mosquitoes bite, they inject saliva when they draw blood. This saliva contains certain blood thinners and proteins, triggering the immune system to respond to these foreign substances.
Our body reacts by releasing histamine – a chemical that is released by white blood cells when your immune system fights allergens – causing the bite to itch and become inflamed.
Prevention and treatment of mosquito bites
The best way to deal with a mosquito bite is to not get them in the first place – but often that’s easier said than done.
Here are some common ways to prevent mosquito bites:
- Use repellents and (Repel, Off! Deep Woods and other brands containing DEET)
- Use natural repellents (lemongrass neem oil, thyme essential oil)
- Avoid going out at dawn or dusk
- Avoid dark colored clothes, especially black
- Avoid standing water and try to eliminate standing water near you
- Use a mosquito net when camping or sleeping outdoors
Mosquito bites, although annoying, are often not serious and disappear within a few days. In the meantime, there are several treatments to relieve itching and inflammation:
- Clean with rubbing alcohol if a fresh bite
- Take an oatmeal bath
- Use over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl or Claritin
- Apply mild corticosteroid creams
- Use aloe vera to reduce inflammation
- Try a cold compress
Although difficult, try as best you can not to scratch the bite too much to avoid any kind of skin reaction or infection.
To learn more, read aboutthis summer, launched by Google and Off, and how you can against mosquitoes, hornets and other flying insects.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.