Summer is my favorite time of year. I love the warm temperatures, the long, sunny days, and the opportunity to spend more time at the lake. But my love for the season ends quickly when I’m covered in red, itchy bumps after just a few minutes outside.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel overwhelmed by the number of mosquito bites you’ve had and the skin itches to the bone. A single bite can be annoying, but I’m pissed when I walk in sporting some new bright red ankle boots and my friends say they don’t even have one.
Why is this? It’s not that we’re particularly unlucky. There are actually scientific reasons why mosquitoes keep certain people apart. Here’s why mosquitoes bite and how you can protect yourself this summer. (You can also find out.)
Why do mosquitoes bite?
Contrary to what you might think, mosquitoes don’t bite people for food — they feed on plant sap. Only female mosquitoes bite, and they do so to get the proteins they need to develop their eggs from your blood.
Why are some people more prone to bites?
There are several factors that make some people more prone to mosquito bites than others:
Color of clothes
Mosquitoes are very visual hunters when it comes to finding a person to bite. This means that movement and dark colors of clothing such as black, navy and red will stand out to mosquitoes. Studies have shown that mosquitoes are more attracted to black, but there has been little further research into why this is so.
Mosquitoes use their senses of sight and smell to find hosts to bite. One of the fastest ways mosquitoes can smell a person is through the carbon dioxide we breathe. Mosquitoes use an organ called a maxillary palp to detect carbon dioxide and can sense it from up to 164 feet away, according to a study published in the journal Chemical Senses.
Because carbon dioxide is a big attractant, people who emit more carbon dioxide—larger people and people who breathe heavily during exercise—are more attractive to mosquitoes.
Body odor and sweat
Mosquitoes are attracted to more substances and compounds than carbon dioxide. Mosquitoes can smell substances in human skin and sweat, including lactic acid, uric acid, and ammonia, and find people to bite.
Scientists are still investigating why certain body odors are more attractive to mosquitoes, but they know genetics, skin bacteria and exercise are all factors. Genetics affect the amount of uric acid excreted, and exercise increases the accumulation of lactic acid.
A common belief is that mosquitoes are attracted to certain things, considering that mosquitoes bite humans for their blood. Blood type is determined by genetics, and each blood type is based on different sets of specific proteins called antigens on the surface of red blood cells. There are four main blood types: A, B, AB, and O.
Although there are no definitive results about which blood type is more attractive to mosquitoes, several studies have suggested that people with type O are the most attractive to mosquitoes. A 2019 study observed the feeding behavior of mosquitoes when presented with different blood samples and found that mosquitoes fed on the O-type feeder more than others. A 2004 study also found that mosquitoes were more likely to land on blood group O secretors (83.3%) than on blood group A secretors (46.5%).
However, these studies are inconclusive and there is still much to learn about mosquito preferences when it comes to blood type.
A small study found that mosquitoes landed on participants more often after drinking small amounts of beer. But before you swear off beer for good, know that the study involved only 14 participants and found that mosquitoes may be only slightly more attracted to people who drink beer.
Why do some people get more swelling from mosquito bites than others?
Mosquito bites can range from small spots to large bites. Why is this happening?
Bites affect people differently. The size and severity of the bite affects how your immune system reacts to the saliva from the mosquito bite. Mosquitoes inject saliva when biting and drawing blood. This saliva contains certain anticoagulants and proteins that stimulate the immune system to respond to these foreign substances.
Our bodies respond by releasing histamine — a chemical released by white blood cells when your immune system fights allergens, which causes itching and inflammation at the site of the bite.
Prevention and treatment of mosquito bites
The best way to combat mosquito bites is to avoid getting them in the first place, but often that’s easier said than done.
Some common ways to get bitten by mosquitoes are:
- use of repellents and (Repel, Off! Deep Woods, and other brands that contain DEET)
- Use natural repellents (citronella neem oil, thyme essential oil)
- Avoid going out at dawn or dusk
- Avoid dark clothing, especially black
- Avoid standing water and try to eliminate standing water near your home
- Use mosquito nets when camping or sleeping outside
In the case of mosquito bites, annoying, but often not severe and resolved within a few days. In the meantime, there are several treatments to reduce itching and inflammation:
- For fresh bites, clean with rubbing alcohol
- Take an oatmeal bath
- Use an over-the-counter antihistamine such as Benadryl or Claritin
- Use mild corticosteroid creams
- Use aloe vera to reduce inflammation
- Try a cold compress
Although it is difficult, do not scratch your bite too harshly to prevent any skin reaction or infection.
For more information, read aboutthis summer, Launched by Google and Off and how you can to mosquitoes, hornets and other flying pests.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult your doctor or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.