Preventing and Treating Severe Mosquito Bites

My three-year-old son has a tendency toward major localized swelling following mosquito bites. I wonder if there is anything I should do to prevent or treat the swelling? Will he outgrow this? No one in our family has allergies, so we are mystified by this situation and worry that we will have to keep him in some kind of mosquito netting for the rest of his life.
New York, NY

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

Many kids (including my daughter Claire) develop large local reactions to mosquito bites – charmingly called Skeeter Syndrome. It’s a reaction to proteins in mosquitos’ saliva. There’s usually some reaction within hours of the bite, which progresses over 8 to 12 hours or more, and then disappears within 3 to 10 days. The reactions can be quite dramatic, and occasionally even blister or bruise.

It’s rare to get any whole-body symptoms from this.

The most common age for it to start is somewhere between age 2 and age 4, and (good news!) once it develops, most kids only have this for several more summers before the reactions disappear. It takes a few extra years to go away for kids who live in Alaska, northern Canada and the Nordic countries.

In the meantime, the keys are preventing mosquito bites, and dealing with bites that do occur.

For prevention my favorite repellant is oil of lemon eucalyptus (like Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent brand). It can be as effective as DEET, but only lasts 2-5 hours.

Natrapel 8 Hour is another DEET-free formula and uses picaridin as its active ingredient. Picaridin is a synthetic compound similar to that found in black pepper. Natrapel was the only DEET-free formula to make Consumer Report’s 2014 list of top five mosquito repellents.

Mosquitoes bite most at dawn and dusk and especially near wetlands or grass. Timing activities outdoors can make a big difference.

When your son is likely to be bitten, a non-sedating antihistamine like Claritin once a day, taken before the bite, can reduce reactions.

After the bite, an anti-itch cream containing hydrocortisone can have a good benefit-to-risk ratio if he is uncomfortable, or a stronger antihistamine like Benadryl (by mouth, not topically). There are stronger medicines if the bite happens to be in a spot that interferes with vision, eating, drinking, or walking.

These bites can get infected – but you won’t see swelling or redness from infection within hours of the bite, so only suspect this if it is not progressing on schedule or he has other symptoms. Most of these large reactions never require antibiotics.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.

Get Dr. Greene's Wellness Recommendations

Sign up now for a delightful weekly email with insights for the whole family. Plus Dr. Greene's FREE Top 5 Wellness Tips For 2017.

  1. Kelsey

    Yesterday, I took my daughter to a beach and turned back immediately, almost running to the vehicle. Less than a minute later, she has a huge bump on her eyebrow. It just kept swelling and now she can hardly open her eye. She has been dealing with these abnormal bites since she was less than a year old. Yes, I put repellents on her. I tried a lot of natural remedies because regular bug spray isn’t a good thing to use on a baby or on faces. I used vanilla extract and that seemed to work the best but she still gets attacked. I was ALWAYS outdoors when I was a child and I would have so many bits but I have never seen so many on one child in my life.

    Added:
    Reply
  2. Rufell Jhon

    Im 13 years old and i was biten by a mosquito, after a few days, the bite actually begins to itch, again after a few days im shocked that i saw my bite is turned into a red bump and many very little red bump is surrounding it, what kind of bite is this?

    Added:
    Reply
  3. Kathleen

    I’m from Australia and I’ve had this my whole life with no relief (I’m 28 now). Only just realised it was a legit thing and not just my overly-sensitive skin being ridiculous (I also get severe dermatitis and have bad reactions to things like deodorants, perfumes, sunscreen, insecticides, etc.)
    Spring is beginning to show up finally and I’m already covered in horrendous bruises, hives and disgusting welts, but now I think I’m going to ask my doctor what I can do.
    Nice to know that after nearly three decades of itching I may be able to at least decrease this discomfort.
    Any suggestions for people with sensitive skin who cannot use insecticides?

    Added:
    Reply
  4. Lynn

    Don’t scratch it spreads proteins, immediately use topical benedryl to stop allergic reaction… reduces itching. Reapply frequently, but do not rub hard. Cover with bandaid in case you forget and scratch. Taking an oral antihistamine like the doc says is good idea. When I was two I got bit near my eye and my whole eye was swollen shut and black and blue. I don’t react quite as bad now but the welts are huge and itchy for weeks… if you don’t deal with it immediately.

    Added:
    Reply
  5. Tracie Fuchs

    Are there any Canadian doctors specializing in Skeeter Syndrome? My 9yr old has dealt with this her whole life. Last year she was prescribed a dbl dose of adult Aerius as a daily preventative as well as a Rx steroid cream in case of a bite. Last year it worked. This year we are back to a single bite causing extreme swelling wib blister and oozing, “sympathy bites” all over her body, headaches and lethargy.

    Added:
    Reply
      • Karen

        I would like to know as well please.

        Added:
        Reply
  6. Kathryn Jones

    I m 61 year s old and still swell up like I did when I was a little girl on the farm. Mosquitoes bite’s are the only thing that makes me swell up, what should I do.

    Added:
    Reply
    • IM

      I am 43 and have the same reaction. The picture above is exactly what occurs on my skin. I have tried every home remedy and off brand mosquito repellent that is made but the only thing that works is Deet. (Which I hate to use but am sometimes forced to) my husband and I can be standing within inches of each other and I will have 5 million bites and he will have none. I continue to read articles about why some or more desirable to mosquitos then others but there are no clear answers as of yet.

      Added:
      Reply
      • Janice

        My teenage daughter is going through this too. Every day she gets more bites. She seems to get 10 to 20 a day. Her whole body including face, fingers and toes are affected. Nothing we have tried stops her from being bit. This is the first year she has had ever had mosquito bites, and it’s out of control. She is miserable and I feel so sorry for her. I took her to a doctor and he wanted to biopsy a bite and I didn’t see the need for that. She doesn’t have cancer. I feel so bad for her and I don’t know what to do to help.

        Added:
        Reply
    • Alan Greene

      Quite agree – mosquito nets are a powerful way to prevent bites.

      Added:
      Reply

Got an idea, tip or a comment?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *