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How To Stop Bug Bites From Itching


Little girl in dress has mosquito bites and scratches her leg on grass.
Photo: Shutterstock

Bug Bite Relief: The Best Anti-Itch Creams And Treatments

Many campers and outdoor enthusiasts cite bug bites as the biggest mood killer for summertime fun. We have a whole host of insect repellents and devices to keep bugs away. Surprisingly, none of our preventative measures seem to work 100% of the time. It seems there are just too many voracious insects out there. 

Mosquitoes often get the blame for leaving itching, red bumps, and blisters on our skin. But it’s not just mosquitoes that cause these problems; there are a number of other insects whose number one goal for their short lives is to bite any warm body they can find. Here’s the short list of annoying little bugs who spend their entire summer biting everybody.  

  • Blackflies
  • Deer flies
  • Horse flies
  • Stable flies
  • No-See-Ums
  • Fire ants
  • Fleas
  • Ticks
  • Chiggers

This is by no means an exhaustive list of bugs that think you are a snack. There are plenty of other bugs that are out to suck your blood too. Wherever you camp, it’s good to know how to stop bug bites from itching before you get bitten.  

What makes bug bites itch so much?

The itching you feel after you get bitten is your body’s natural reaction to insect saliva, which is mildly acidic. After you’re bitten, your body’s immune system starts producing histamine and increasing blood flow to the area of the bite in an effort to defend itself from a possible allergen.

Histamines then do whatever they need to do to expel a possible allergen to protect the body, resulting in tissue swelling and nerve irritation.  This is what results in the itch that we feel after we are bitten by a bug.

Dangerous bug bite symptoms

If you experience any of the following after you get a bug bite, you should seek medical help immediately:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • The sensation that your throat is closing
  • Swollen lips, tongue, or face
  • Chest pain
  • A racing heartbeat that lasts more than a few minutes
  • Dizziness
  • A headache
  • Swelling and heat around the bite 
  • A red, donut-shaped rash that develops after a tick bite. This could be a sign of Lyme disease, which should be treated with antibiotics as soon as possible.
  • A fever with a red or black, spotty rash that spreads. 

Why scratching doesn’t stop bug bites from itching

You’ve probably noticed that scratching bug bites just makes the itching sensation worse. Interestingly, a study at Washington University School of Medicine discovered that the reason we are driven to scratch an itchy area at all is to create pain so we don’t feel the itching anymore. The mild amount of pain in the skin caused by scratching temporarily interferes with the itching sensation. This interference happens because while scratching, nerve cells in the spinal cord carry pain signals to the brain instead of itch signals.   

After we scratch a bug bite, the brain releases a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin muddles the pain/itching sensations and can make us feel less itchy. However, while serotonin inhibits an itch, it also activates nerves in the skin that make you itch. Scratching itchy bug bites also increases circulation to the area of the bug bite. Then the body responds by sending more histamine to the area. The itching sensation returns and it’s usually even worse.   

A bigger problem is that scratching bug bites doesn’t only make them itchier. The small tears in the skin caused by scratching can lead to both scarring and skin infections. Skin infections from bug bites often need to be treated with antibiotics. Even if they are really itchy, you should never scratch bug bites. 

How To Stop Bug Bites From Itching

A quick search on the internet will reveal many remedies for bug bite itching, including home treatments that some people may find helpful. The Center For Disease Control recommends the following remedies to stop bug bites from itching:

  1. Wash the area with soap and water.
  2. Apply an ice pack for 10 minutes to reduce swelling and itching. Reapply ice pack as needed.
  3. Apply a mixture of baking soda and water, which can help reduce the itch response.
    • Mix 1 tablespoon baking soda with just enough water to create a paste.
    • Apply the paste to the mosquito bite.
    • Wait 10 minutes.
    • Wash off the paste.
  4. Use an over-the-counter anti-itch or antihistamine cream.

The best anti-itch creams for bug bites

Anti-itch creams work by reducing inflammation. To do this, the best bug bite creams contain histamine blockers known as antihistamines. We researched the top over-the-counter anti-itch creams and listed the best ones below.

Benadryl Itch Stopping Cream

Reviewers raved over this anti-itch cream for bug bites, even after they had tried other preparations unsuccessfully. Benadryl Itch Stopping Cream can be used on children 2 years and older.

After Bite Insect Bite Treatment

After Bite uses sodium bicarbonate (commonly known as baking soda) to relieve itching caused by bug bites. Reviewers report that it works extremely well on mosquito bites. This treatment can be used on anyone 2 years old and up.

StingEze MAX Bug Bite Relief

StingEze uses a formula of topical analgesic (Benzocaine), antiseptic, phenol, and antipruritic (Camphor) to effectively stop itching and pain from bug bites and stings. Reviewers report that it works on itching from all kinds of insect bites. This treatment can be used safely on anyone over 2 years old.

Conclusion

While bug bites are an inevitable part of summertime camping, we can help mitigate them by using mosquito repellents and traps. When camping, walking, or hiking, you should always avoid touching or disturbing plants or foliage, or else you’ll find yourself being eaten alive by insects. If you are bitten by bugs, there are many different products you can use to help relieve the itch.  


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Author Lynne Fedorick Avatar

Lynne Fedorick

Lynne lives, travels and works full time in the R-Pod 180 with 3 pointers and 1 small but vital corgi mix named Alice. Lynne began full time RVing as an experiment in 2019, but she quickly fell in love with the convenience, freedom and minimalist lifestyle offered by full time RV living. Lynne is a professional dog trainer, offering mobile and online dog training services through her website at www.mydoggeek.com. You can read about her travel adventures on her blog at: https://rpodadventure.wordpress.com/

4 thoughts on “How To Stop Bug Bites From Itching

  1. I have found that using roll on deodorant, especially the antiperspirant is very effective to stop itching from chiggers.

  2. The best thing ever is a pen-size instrument with batteries that heat up a small round ceramic plate at its tip. You press the tip on the bite, push the 3-seconds button, or the the 5-seconds button (depending how sensitive the skin or how bad the bite may be) and feel heat ‘burning’ the insects saliver/venom. It may not be completely gone after that but the itching is. Repeat every 6 hours, or so. The name is ‘bite away’ and you can get it for 15 to 20 $ online. Have mine for 3 years now, changed batteries once, used it hundreds of times 😉

  3. A weak ammonia solution also works (some commercial products include ammonia as the active ingredient). Ammonia is a weak base (like baking soda) that can have a neutralizing effect on the acid in insect bites and stings.

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