There are those of us roaming this Earth with the knowledge that no matter how closely we sit to the citronella candle, no matter what clothing we wear or what time of day we wander outdoors for a bit during the summer, we will get bit by mosquitos through the layer of bug spray we swear we just applied.
This summer, I decided enough was enough. I was no longer going to listen to myself complain about how I couldn’t prevent a bug bite during the 12 seconds it takes me to walk from my car to my front door. This summer, I was going to accept the bites as a given and instead focus on treatment.
(I’m not gonna stop using my bug spray, though. It does help, it’s safe, and it’s especially important if you live in an area with mosquito-borne diseases, like Zika or West Nile.)
The Bug Bite Thing
I stumbled upon the Bug Bite Thing in my desperate search for a mosquito bite cure and I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. I’ve only used it once so far, but it was on six different bites I managed to get while doing some yard work last weekend. The Thing is a suction tool that claims to extract the mosquito’s saliva left under the skin.
A mosquito’s saliva contains proteins that are allergens to humans, says Dr. Katie Marks-Cogan, an allergist and immunologist (as well as one of the developers of Ready, Set, Food!). Our bodies create antibodies to fight off the allergens, and it’s the resulting immune reaction that causes the redness, swelling and itchiness that we all know and love.
“The whole allergic response is stimulated by the saliva, so if there’s a mechanism to get some of that saliva out, I could see that working or at least minimising the reaction,” Marks-Cogan says.
Out of the six bites I tested this on, five stopped itching immediately and reduced in size to what a bite normally looks like about 3-4 days after I get it. The sixth bite was in a tricky ankle spot and I don’t think I suctioned it well enough. It continued to bother me off and on for the next two days, although not as much as a bite normally does. I tried suctioning it a couple more times, but as the website says, the “best results are obtained when the Bug Bite Thing is used within the first two minutes of a bite or sting.”
So there’s the con—you’ve got to carry one around with you and use it right away to get the most benefit. Which is why I promptly ordered two more, so I can keep one in the house, one in my purse and one in my car. The Thing is fairly small and lightweight, so this is a small price to pay.
Lifehacker Health Editor Beth Skwarecki uses another itch-relief tool called the ZapIt. This thing uses low electrical pulses to reduce inflammation and histamine flow (versus scratching, which floods the area with histamine and makes the itch worse). Marks-Cogan, who is familiar with the science behind such a claim, says it does make sense.
“The hypothesis there is that this kind of electrical pulse can decrease the amount of histamine or affect how histamine is used,” she says. “If the ZapIt really is the same electrical pulse (as what’s been studied), then theoretically, it’s possible that it could help.”
The relief is often temporary—Beth says it works for her for 6+ hours—but we’ll take it.
Neither of these have been totally proven and everyone’s body responds differently to bites and their treatment, but anecdotally, they’ve got a lot of promise. Perhaps one of each—a Bug Bite Thing for immediate action and a ZapIt to use later if you didn’t have a Thing readily available at the moment of the bite—is your best bet.
Marks-Cogan suggests that symptom-relief medications to try might include a topical steroid or a Benadryl cream. For what she calls “large, local” reactions—the kind of ridiculously big, hard bites that some folks are prone to—a doctor might call in higher-strength prescription topical steroid or an oral steroid.
“I often tell (patients) to take an oral anti-histamine, like Zyrtec or Allegra,” she says. “If you know you’re going camping, go on a Zyrtec and stay on it (while you’re there). You may still get bit, but your reaction won’t be as bad.”
Her final advice: If you’re still finding no relief, consider talking with an allergist directly to see what other options you might have.