Hands down, if you asked me the one reason why I would consider moving away from San Antonio, it’s the mosquitos. I know many, many other places in the world are home to mosquitos over the summer, but I’ve never lived anywhere where they were so prolific, aggressive, and long-lasting through the season.
I should probably say, too, that my reactions to mosquito bites are far outside the realm of “normal.” It wasn’t until I moved to San Antonio that I discovered that I’m not the bug-paranoid hypochondriac people have always assumed me to be. In fact, I suffer from Skeeter Syndrome, an allergy to polypeptides found within a mosquito’s saliva that results in an extreme inflammatory response to bites.
Normally, mosquito bites are a minor annoyance – a small itchy bump that comes up within 24 hours of being bitten, but quickly subsides over the next few days. Abnormal, extreme reactions are uncomfortable, inconvenient, and downright painful. They suck the fun out of summer faster than you can say “mosquito.” While Skeeter Syndrome is relatively rare, it’s more common in babies and children, those with immune system disorders, and people who are being exposed to new species of mosquitos they haven’t encountered before. As we enjoy the summer with our littles, I’ve put together a handy guide to identifying Skeeter Syndrome reactions, what helps, and when it’s important to seek treatment.
Signs and Symptoms
- Redness and puffiness within minutes of being bitten; and a worsening reaction to the bite over the next 12 hours
- Excessive swelling, sometimes making movement uncomfortable or impossible (especially if the hands and feet are affected)
- Large red welts that feel hot to the touch
- Red/purple bruising of the skin
- Small blisters that leak fluid
- Itchiness, burning or intense pain at the site of the bite
- Generally feeling unwell
Personally, I find my bites come up quickly and worsen over the course of 12-24 hours; then the associated bruising typically lasts a little over a week. While serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) are very rare with Skeeter Syndrome, they are possible. Generally, though, the major concern is avoiding infection. More on that below.
Tried and Tested Remedies
Of course, the most effective thing to do is to avoid getting bitten at all. Let me just roll my eyes here because I’ve found that my severe reactions seem to go hand in hand with being more prone to getting bitten (perhaps I’m just extra delicious?). Even with liberally and frequently applied repellent and other measures in place, I often find myself struggling with a few bites after walking the dog, playing outside, or a swim at the pool.
- The best repeller I’ve found is actually not a spray, but any of the devices sold by a company called Thermacell. They use butane to heat a scent pad (which is odorless) effectively creating a mosquito-repelling perimeter around your porch, patio, etc. Though it is by no means fool proof, when used in combination with a good bug spray, it’s the best first line of defence
- Make sure you continue to apply bug spray frequently – I know it’s not fun, but it has to be at least as often as (if not more than) sunscreen. Sweat and water from the pool, splash pad, etc. make it ineffective in no time
- Oh no! Despite your very best efforts, you’ve been bitten. As soon as you can, wash the area with tepid water and antibacterial soap
- Heat is the enemy here: use an ice pack regularly, even if just for a few minutes; and keep showers and baths cool
- Avoid scratching. Cut nails short and cover with a band aid if necessary
- Take an oral antihistamine as soon as you can after the bite; and take it every 24 hours while you or they are struggling
- If the swelling and redness is particularly severe, draw around the boundary of the bite so you can tell if it’s spreading
- Keep the area clean and dry
- Apply a layer of my favorite homeopathic remedy, Hyland’s PRID – a drawing salve typically used on splinters, that helps draw the polypeptides out of your skin. It’s available on Amazon, at Walmart, and in pharmacies
- Use Cortisone cream sparingly, but especially at bedtime, to help prevent scratching
- Use Motrin for pain relief, it’s also an anti-inflammatory (not suitable for kids under 6 months of age)
What to Watch For
As I’ve already mentioned, severe allergic reactions – anaphylaxis – are very rare among people with Skeeter Syndrome. That said, they can happen, so always trust your gut if something doesn’t seem right: wheezing, swelling in the mouth and throat, are all warning signs. Generally, though, the major concern is avoiding skin infection.
It can be incredibly difficult not to scratch itchy bites – even if we know we shouldn’t, and that issue is ten fold with young children. What’s more, the blisters that often form at the bite site – sometimes one large blister, more often a rash of small ones that leak histamine fluid – can leave the skin open and prone to infection.
While feeling generally unwell, and even a fever, aren’t uncommon, it’s important to keep your eyes open to signs of infection. Excessive bruising and swelling, weeping wounds, swelling that continues to spread, high fever, and bites that just don’t seem to be getting better within 5-7 days may indicate a skin infection that needs treatment. It’s always worth calling your doctor or your child’s pediatrician for advice, or to be seen if things just don’t seem right.
It’s my sincere wish that you – and I – can get through the next few months with minimal irritation from mosquitos… Happy Summer!