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Beware Skeeter Syndrome: Mosquito Bites That Won’t Quit

Mosquito bites itch like crazy, but usually last for only a short time. People with skeeter syndrome suffer much longer. Prevent bites!

We’ll bet you’ve never heard of skeeter syndrome. That’s because most people react to mosquito bites with a red spot and itching that only lasts for a few minutes. At worst, a really nasty mosquito bite might linger for an hour or two. As a result, the majority of us never see a doctor about such bites. The itching and redness disappear long before you can get in to an appointment with the dermatologist.  Researchers report that some people suffer long-lasting large reactions in response to bites from mosquitoes, horse flies, black flies or midges (Allergologie Select, Nov. 30, 2020). When people experience such severe allergic reactions, they may be miserable for a long time.

Steroid Soothes Skeeter Syndrome:

Q. I suffer from unusually severe reactions to mosquito bites. Each bite causes a red swollen area the size of a quarter. I’ve learned to never scratch, as the red area will grow to several inches and take weeks to clear up.

Last summer, I got about 20 bites while I was gardening. As a result, I experienced an immune system reaction that triggered eczema that lasted for months.

After I’d suffered for years, a dermatologist prescribed triamcinolone. It’s been life changing. Just the smallest dab on a mosquito bite makes it disappear within 24 hours. A bite rarely needs a second application.

Why isn’t this medicine mentioned as a treatment for extreme mosquito bite reactions?

What Causes Skeeter Syndrome?

A. There is a medical term for your exaggerated reaction to mosquito bites. It’s called “Skeeter Syndrome” (American Family Physician, Dec. 15, 2013).  The intense redness and itching is caused by allergens in the saliva of mosquitoes. In addition, these severe symptoms persist far longer than a typical bite response. Unfortunately, dermatologists don’t know exactly why some people are hypersensitive.

Some people (I am one of them) react in a similar way to chigger bites. A chigger bite leaves a big red itchy area. If not treated promptly, a blister can form. The itching is often unbearable. The bumps and blisters can last for weeks.

Overcoming Skeeter Syndrome:

The best way to overcome such extreme reactions is with topical prescription-strength corticosteroids like triamcinolone. My dermatologist prescribes an even stronger steroid called clobetasol (Temovate).

At the first sign of a chigger bite I put a tiny dab on the red, itchy spot. I follow up for a few days and usually the bite never gets a foothold and the itching is bearable. The sooner a strong topical steroid is applied after a bite the better.

Prednisone: The Big Gun!

Oral prednisone is sometimes warranted in the case of an extreme bite reaction.

One physician described treatment this way:

“Antihistamines are usually the only treatment required for insect bites; however, severe mosquito reactions (skeeter syndrome) may require prednisone. Applying insect repellent containing diethyltoluamide (DEET) 10% to 35% or picaridin 20% is the best method for preventing bites.”

Home Remedies for Easing the Itch of “Normal” Mosquito Bites:

Q. I was fascinated by your article on skeeter syndrome because I too have suffered for weeks with itchy, swollen mosquito bites. What I use to calm a bug bite is camphor. This is the active ingredient in the gel put out by Benadryl and is also an ingredient in Vicks VapoRub.

A. The makers of Extra Strength Benadryl Itch Stopping Gel list camphor as an “inactive” ingredient. The active ingredient is the topical antihistamine diphenhydramine. Camphor is one of the active ingredients in Vicks VapoRub.

Camphor does have FDA approval as an anti-itch cream, ointment or gel.

Another reader shares her success with the same product:

“Bugs love to bite me and then I itch like crazy. I haven’t found anything better for bites than Benadryl Gel, or the generic drugstore equivalent. It doesn’t make you sleepy the way a Benadryl pill does, and it stops the itching immediately.”

Most people do not suffer from Skeeter Syndrome. What they need is temporary relief from the itching. Readers have come up with all sorts of solutions for minor itching:

  • Hot water…not so hot it will burn. A second or two application is all you need.
  • Hot Spoon, which uses the same principle of heat.
  • Battery-Powered Heat. Therapik or Bite Helper provide heat to the bite using battery power.
  • Vicks VapoRub

Avoiding Skeeter Syndrome by Preventing Bug Bites:

To avoid bites from ticks, chiggers or biting flies as well as mosquitoes, we recommend tried and true insect repellents: DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. A different repellent, permethrin, works well when applied to shoes, socks and clothing. People vary greatly in their susceptibility to bites. Some people are mosquito magnets while others are rarely attacked.

Readers share their experience with a variety of tactics.

“What works for mosquitoes, ticks and other critters definitely varies from person to person. Skin So Soft has never done anything for our family. In fact, we’ve found nothing that works consistently. On the other hand, we’re not bothered excessively. A good friend attracts mosquitoes like flies to honey! Nothing helps her at all, even DEET. Body chemistry definitely matters!”

Another reader is surprisingly resistant:

“I must have a natural repellent because mosquitoes do not like me! I have actually watched them land on my arm and instantly fly away without biting. In my whole life, I have had only one mosquito bite. That mosquito must have been desperate!

“My sister is another story. If she goes outside, I think I can hear them all yelling LUNCH as they zoom in to bite her.”

Do B Vitamins Help?

Some readers report that B vitamins can help, despite a lack of scientific support:

“I have found that when I take vitamin B12, I do not get bitten by mosquitoes. Normally, mosquitoes feast on me and make me completely miserable, so this discovery has been a life-changer for me here in South Florida.

“Initially, I was taking B12 once or twice a week, not daily. Then I began to notice that on days I took B12, I would not be bitten. Or, if I did, my reaction was minimal and quickly dissipated instead of the usual painful and maddening result. “Since I find that vitamin B12 affects my sleep, I take the smallest dose possible. My daughter and son-in-law in Massachusetts, who love the outdoors, have now started taking B12. They too are no longer bothered by mosquitoes.”

Drawbacks to DEET:

Other readers rely on repellent sprays. DEET is very effective, but it does have some drawbacks. It may act as a solvent on some plastics and synthetic fabrics.

One person found it melted her nail polish.

“Just an FYI about sprays containing DEET: I once was spraying my legs and feet and noticed that suddenly my toenail polish was melting off! I now use wipes on my feet and carefully avoid my polished toes.

“Also, I don’t spray anywhere near my car, just in case it would affect the finish. Because of this ability to eat through polish, I have to wonder what it’s really doing to me when I spray it on my skin! I’ve tried to use natural products, but I have yet to really find anything natural that works well enough.”

People who don’t like DEET do have alternatives. As we have already mentioned, both picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are effective.

One reader attests:

“I have been using plant-based lemon eucalyptus insect repellent for years. It keeps mosquitoes away and even worked against terrible biting flies in the Bahamas.”

Because people vary in their sensitivity, it may take some experimentation to find the most appropriate strategy to avoid bites.

Learn More:

You can learn more details about easing mosquito bites at this link: How to Prevent and Stop the Itch of Mosquito Bites FAST!

We have also written about Avoiding Mosquito Bites Naturally.

Share your own story in the comment section. Have you ever heard of skeeter syndrome? What works best for you to stop the itch?

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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  • Hemmer W & Wantke F, "Insect hypersensitivity beyond bee and wasp venom allergy." Allergologie Select, Nov. 30, 2020. DOI: 10.5414/ALX02123E
  • Juckett G, "Arthropod bites." American Family Physician, Dec. 15, 2013.
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