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Some people can sail through summer without any bother at all from mosquitoes, while the rest of us spend our time ducking and weaving from the little pests knowing that any bite we get will result in a big itchy welt. This article tells you what you need to know to avoid getting bitten, and how to cope with any bites should you get caught.

If you’ve ever developed itching, redness and an ugly welt after having been bitten by a mosquito you’ll know that a reaction to a bite can sometimes be quite unpleasant. But it’s not the bite itself that’s responsible, rather your body’s reaction to it.

When a mosquito bites, she-it’s only the female mosquitoes that bite as they need our protein-rich blood to produce their eggs-injects proteins and enzymes into our body. These are released to numb the area and get our blood flowing more easily in order for the mosquito to suck out as much as she can before you send her packing. Within 24 hours of getting bitten, the body detects these enzymes and releases histamines as a form of protection. And it’s these histamines that cause the itching and swelling. Any degree of itching or swelling after a bite is considered an allergic reaction and can vary from a short-lived itch to anaphylactic shock.

In some parts of the world, trying to avoid mosquitoes can be difficult. However, it’s useful to know that they are attracted to still water-that’s where they breed and lay their eggs. So try to avoid marshy areas, especially at dawn and dusk as these are the times when they are out in force. If you know you are going to be venturing into places likely to be infested with mosquitoes, wear loose-fitting clothing (mosquitoes can bite through tight-fitting clothes) covering as much as your body as possible, and tuck your pants into your socks so they can’t get inside and up your legs. Use a mosquito repellent, preferably one that contains DEET (meta-N, N-diethyl toluamide). DEET is believed to block the insect’s receptors thus rendering it unable to locate its prey. If you’re wearing sunscreen in addition to insect repellent then apply that first. Note that young children and pregnant women should always take care when using insect repellent containing high concentrations of DEET.

Some people advocate increasing one’s intake of vitamin B complexes as the compound these release into the sweat is believed to be repellent to mosquitoes. However, there’s no evidence to prove that this is an effective way to avoid mosquitoes, and you’re probably better off with the long pants and the DEET!

If you do get bitten, ibuprofen can help with the swelling of any welts that might develop. If you’ve sustained a large number of bites, taking a cold shower will reduce swelling as the cold water restricts the capillaries near the skin’s surface, helping to reduce the number of antibodies the body releases to cope with the bite. Applying an anti-histamine cream will also help reduce swelling. Although it might be difficult not to, don’t scratch! Excessive scratching could lead to infection. Relief from the itching can be achieved by applying a sticky paste of baking soda and water to the bite. Calamine lotion and 1 percent hydrocortisone cream will also help relive any itching and pain. For a more “natural” treatment, both tea tree and lavender essential oils are reported to be effective in treating mosquito bites.

Medical treatment should be sought if any reaction to a mosquito bite includes breathing difficulties, sweating and heart palpitations.

It’s still not fully understood why mosquitoes should favor one person over another; research suggests that it could be anything from a person’s diet to the color of clothing worn at the time of getting bitten. Or it could just be that those who say they never get bitten doin fact get bitten only don’t develop any reaction to the bites.

As to whether repeatedly getting bitten will in the long term pay off, there seems to be some debate over whether a person can develop tolerance to mosquito bites and become less sensitive to the resultant reaction. Apparently, there’s some belief that this can be achieved by long-term exposure to mosquitoes, although the definition of “long-term exposure” isn’t entirely clear.

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