Summers bring with them beautiful weather, pretty flowers blooming all around and a desire to be outdoors. And let’s face it. All kinds of insects and bugs wanting to feast on you. Bug bites can be extremely irritating, and sometimes these tiny creatures are able to pierce through the thickest of clothing to get to us. Let’s look at what makes us so attractive to these creatures and what happens inside our body once we get bitten by them.
What Makes Us So Attractive?
If you are outdoors, working up a sweat, you end up attracting all kinds of bugs – mosquitoes, gnats and other biting insects. It’s not your sweat that attracts them to you, but the heat that your body emanates and the carbon dioxide that you are constantly exhaling. You may run or swat all you want, but these creatures can sense your presence from as far as 150 feet away! Men attract more insects than women, as they generate more body heat and carbon dioxide, making them bug magnets. But they also deter bugs with their protective body hair. So, the smoother your skin, the more attractive bugs find you!
The Science Behind That Itchy Spot
Let’s understand the science behind these bug bites a little deeper. And understand why scratching at the itchy bite sites is a bad idea. When an insect finds you and lands on you, it starts looking for an area that is thin-skinned and close to a blood vessel. (Yes, they’re smart!) You may sometimes not even feel the bite, as a mosquito first injects numbing saliva into your skin before it begins sucking your blood. Surprising as it may sound, only female mosquitoes bite. And by the time you feel the prick of its sting, the mosquito would have finished her meal.
Once the bug pierces your skin and injects saliva into your skin, your body IDs the saliva as an intruder. This happens as the saliva of the bug contains many proteins that our body is programmed to recognize as intruders. The moment this happens, your immune system is on high alert and releases chemicals called histamines that help lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells, to rush to the scene of crime (the bite site) and try to kill the intruders. This whole process causes itching and the area swells up. This seemingly complicated process is actually healthy. It’s good that your body responds to the bite with an itch and by swelling up. If you have no response, it means that your immune system is weak and you are then open to an infection from the insect bite.
To Scratch Or Not To Scratch
It can be terribly tempting to scratch at an insect bite, especially a mosquito bite. But scratching is a bad idea for a number of reasons. It helps spread the mosquito saliva which increases the amount of histamines produced which in turn increases the swelling and the itch. Also, scratching can break the skin, which can lead to bacteria from the surface of your skin and the ones from under your fingernails to enter your blood stream making you prone to an infection. A better alternative could be to wash the bite site with soap and water which will also help ease the itch.
You can try using an antihistamine like Benadryl for the itch or consider an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen for the swelling. If you aren’t inclined on using medicines, you can try rubbing some ice and aloe vera on the affected site. If you end up scratching and the spot bleeds, you may need to watch out for signs of an infection.
Each one of us has a different reaction to insect bites. If you’re lucky the itch and swelling will subside on their own. But if you happen to be very sensitive, the swelling may go up to 5 inches wide. It might look nasty, but more often than not, it is nothing to worry about. An antihistamine and some ice should take care of it. In a couple of days, the bite mark may fade out totally and the swelling will have subsided. If you seem to have flu like symptoms, you may need to give your doctor a call and have yourself examined to rule out infections like the West Nile Virus. The next time you decide to venture out into the outdoors, wear lighter clothing, as it fends off insects. You can even apply some lemon eucalyptus oil to fend off those determined bugs.