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Beware Skeeter Syndrome: Mosquito Bites That Won’t Quit

No one likes mosquito bites. They itch like crazy, but usually last for only a short time. People with skeeter syndrome are far worse off. The bites last!

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

You can learn more details about these and other home remedies for mosquito bites at this link:

How to Prevent and Stop the Itch of Mosquito Bites FAST!

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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