The People's Perspective on Medicine

Bug Bites that Blister Respond to Hot Water

What do you do when you have really itchy bug bites? OTC anti-itch creams are not always that effective. You may be surprised how well hot water works.
Young woman allergy scratching her abdomen stomach with fingers isolated on a white background

Most people get itchy bug bites. Mosquitoes, chiggers, fleas, flies, lice, midges and mites can all trigger an itch for a few days. Some people are so sensitive to the saliva of biting insects, however, that they develop persistent itching and blistering. Bug bites that blister likely will require medical attention. For example, a dermatologist consultant recommends a powerful corticosteroid gel for people who are super sensitive to chigger bites. He prescribes a tiny dab of super-strong clobetasol at the first sign of redness and itching. That can diminish the severity of the reaction. For more mild reactions, though, hot water can be surprisingly effective as this reader reports.

Hot Water for Bug Bites that Blister:

Q. I have horrible allergic reactions to insect bites. I am so sensitive that bites cause a level of itching that has me in tears. They almost always blister and look terrible.

Today, my brother told me about hot water for itching. It is my saving grace.

A. We first read about hot water for itching over 40 years ago in a textbook called Dermatology:
Diagnosis and Treatment edited by a renowned expert, Dr. Marion Sulzberger. Water needs to be hot (120 to 130 degrees F) but not so hot that it will burn skin. A few seconds is all that is needed. A hot washcloth can also help.

The theory is that heat overwhelms nerves in the skin that trigger itch sensations. The relief can last for a few hours.

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How Does Hot Water Work Bug Bites?

Want to know more about how hot water works? Here is a more in-depth explanation:

“Rediscovering How Hot Water for Itches Works for Hours”

Battery Powered Heat vs. Itchy Bug Bites:

There are even battery-powered devices that deliver heat to the bite. One is Therapik.  Another is Bite Helper

Readers Share Stories:

Mary in Connecticut reports:

“Hot water helps ease my itch for hours. For most of my life it has been my go-to remedy even though it doesn’t actually cure the itch. One should always find out what is behind bad itching. That said, hot water does offer tremendous relief and that is the most important thing in the moment.”

Laura in Grants Pass, Oregon has a modification on hot water for itching bug bites:

“I grab a spoon or kitchen knife that I put in a cup of hot water. Then I place the spoon over an itchy bug bite. I may have to do it a few times. I find that the itch goes away really fast after using the spoon. If the itch comes back, I just repeat the process. It feels so much better than scratching, which is far more temporary and can damage the skin.”

What Do You Do For Itchy Bug Bites?

Share your story below in the comment section.

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    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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    I’ve been using heat to relieve persistent itching for decades. Blow dryer is the easiest, but anything that gets hot enough to cause what I call ‘itch flash-over’ without burning the skin will work. Once ‘flashed’ the itch will be gone for 3-6 hours for me.

    YES. Hot water even works on Fire Ant bites!

    Heat a spoon whith a match under its ‘cup’ side and touch the round side to your itchy spots (I saw and felt that work over and over again on a camping trip with my daughter’s family)

    Joe Graedon, thanks so much for the post.Much thanks again. Really Cool.

    When I was pregnant with twins many years ago, the only thing that relieved the itch was a very hot shower!

    Possibly similar to hot water, I have had relief from bug bites by applying a small dab of Capzasin cream. I think the hot “Chile pepper” effect is similar to hot water. I am very susceptible to any bug bites and I discovered this through experimenting. It is nice to get some relief from the itch and burning I experience most of the summer.


    I agree, as this has worked for me. However, as Joe has warned in the past, be careful not to burn yourself. Once your skin gets used to a given water temperature the temptation is to increase it just a little bit more and then more until you realize you are burning yourself. So always keep checking the temperature with the other hand to make sure the water isn’t getting too hot.

    This also works on poison ivy rashes; it soothes the itching and helps dry out the blisters.

    I use a hair dryer, set on high, to relieve itching from bug bites and poison ivy. Put the dryer on high, and hold it on the itch for as long as you can stand it. The itch disappears as soon as you remove the heat.

    Hot water works great for itch relief from poison ivy and poison oak. I hold the itchy spot under the faucet and gradually increase the temperature until I feel like the itch goes away. You will have to be careful not to get too hot. The relief is immediate and lasts for hours. I’ve been doing this for years, and it works great for me.

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