Spring is mosquito season
Mosquitoes love warm, wet weather. Spring is their favorite season!
Research has shown that mosquitoes prefer certain people over others. Blame your genes. 😕
But you won’t always be able to hide behind a tastier friend.
And even though mosquito bites are mostly a seasonal annoyance, in some parts of the country/world mosquitoes carry serious diseases like Zika virus, West Nile virus, malaria, chikungunya, yellow fever or dengue fever.
This season be prepared to be repellent.
Mosquito repellents that work
I read an interesting article that says mosquitoes can actually learn not to bite you if you keep swatting at them. Supposedly they associate your unique scent with being hit, so they stay away.
Good to know, but it sounds pretty tiring, so I’ll stick to using a repellent when I really need one.
There are four chemicals on the market that make up most of the available bug repellents. Always read the labels to know what the active ingredients are!
DEET is considered the gold standard. To repel mosquitoes and ticks, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using a product with at least 20% DEET. Higher concentrations provide longer protection. If you only need coverage for a few hours in the morning or evening, there are many products with around a 25-40% concentration.
DEET has been on the market since 1957. The EPA (the agency that regulates insecticides) considers DEET to be of “low acute toxicity” and believes that “the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general U.S. population.”
The EPA also classifies DEET as a Group D carcinogen; that is, it does not cause cancer.
There have been some very rare reports of neurological problems related to DEET, associated with long-term use and misuse of the product (such as swallowing it). But the most common side effect is skin irritation, especially if it gets in the eyes. Apply carefully. Oh, and it smells bad and stains clothing.
The EPA estimates adverse reactions at around 1 in 100 million persons. In my opinion, that’s pretty safe.
DEET products are readily available and inexpensive.
A few years ago I was on vacation in Belize and Guatemala. I used my DEET while friends insisted on using sprays with “natural” ingredients like rosemary and citronella. Within two days they were begging me for my DEET, and I had significantly fewer bites than they did.
This chemical is another effective bug repellent, although the CDC recommends it only for mosquitoes, not ticks. It’s been used in the US since 2005 and is also considered by the EPA to be of “relatively low acute toxicity.”
A concentration of 20% lasts for up to 8 hours and is as effective as a 30% concentration of DEET. It also doesn’t smell, irritate your eyes and skin, or dissolve plastics.
It costs about the same as DEET and is available in many products.
IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus
Both of these bug repellents have really long chemical names, but they are plant-based oils and therefore not regulated by the EPA or the FDA.
Labels for these bug repellents often use the phrase “botanicals,” “organic” or “all natural.”
Oil of lemon eucalyptus can be very irritating to the skin and eyes, and it isn’t recommended for children younger than 3.
If you only want casual protection against an occasional mosquito, these will offer some protection. Aggressive or disease-carrying insects? I wouldn’t risk it. Neither has been found to be as effective as DEET or picaridin.
And the trendy wrists bands or stickers infused with the oil of lemon eucalyptus? The chemical simply can’t surround your body and provide adequate protection. Again, I just wouldn’t risk it.
Keep in mind
- Only DEET is recommended by the CDC to repel ticks, which carry Lyme disease.
- Higher concentrations of active ingredients provide longer protection. Look for at least 30% DEET and 20% picaridin.
- Higher concentrations of DEET provide longer protection than picaridin against aggressive insects (ever been to Alaska in the summer?).
- Children should use lower concentrations (less than 30% DEET).
- Infants under the age of 2 months should not use insect repellents.
- Combined sunscreen/bug repellents should not be used. Bug repellent should be applied once a day; sunscreen needs to be applied several times a day.
- If using a sunscreen as well, apply it first.
- Citronella doesn’t work. Period.
- Treat your clothing with a permethrin spray (but don’t put it directly on your skin).
Treatments for mosquito bites
It’s impossible to avoid mosquito bites all the time.
The red, itchy bump is a mild allergic reaction to the mosquito saliva. You can minimize the reaction if you act right away. Try one of these common household products:
- Ammonia: Use a cotton ball or swab to apply a small amount of household ammonia. The ammonia changes the acidity of the skin, which counters some of the chemical reactions. My son (who mosquitoes love!) swears by After Bite, an inexpensive and easy-to-carry ammonia stick.
- Meat tenderizer: Mix a small amount of water with a meat tenderizer and apply to the bite. Meat tenderizers use an enzyme that breaks down protein. Like the ammonia, it works best when applied immediately.
- Ice: Apply an ice cube to the bite to reduce swelling and itching. If you use an ice pack, wrap it in a towel first. Obviously, this won’t be as effective if you have many bites.
- Rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer: Rubbing alcohol cools the skin as it evaporates, and this provides temporary relief from the itching. Hand sanitizers are just a gel form of rubbing alcohol, so it may stay on the skin longer.
- Benadryl gel or cream: A generic tube of this topical antihistamine is a good thing to have on hand for the summer. It’s also works for poison oak.
- 1% cortisone cream or ointment: Another good product to keep in your medicine cabinet is a tube of generic anti-itch cream.
I’ve tried all of these products at one time or another, and found that nothing works all the time for everyone. Ammonia stick and ice work best for me. What works best for you?
Here are some other products for coping with mosquitoes this spring!