- Skeeter syndrome is a moderate to severe allergic reaction to mosquito bites.
- Common symptoms of skeeter syndrome are swelling, red lesions, and a low-grade fever.
- Skeeter syndrome can be treated with topical steroids prescribed by your doctor.
- This article was medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
- Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.
Warmer weather not only brings scenic hikes and refreshing swims, but also pesky swarms of mosquitoes. For individuals with skeeter syndrome, these bites can trigger allergic reactions that range from mild to severe.
If you're looking to spend time outdoors without painful itching, here's some tips to protect yourself from mosquito bites — and when to seek medical attention.
What is skeeter syndrome?
Skeeter syndrome is a moderate to severe local reaction that manifests around the bite area, and is characterized by swelling, red lesions, and a low-grade fever. It occurs in response to certain proteins in a mosquito's saliva, which most people build an immune response to.
Therefore, skeeter syndrome is most prevalent among individuals with limited exposure to local mosquito species, like visitors and young children. Immunocompromised individuals, like those with HIV or chronic Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) disorders, may also experience a reaction if they're more vulnerable to irritants in mosquito saliva.
Because they have similar symptoms, skeeter syndrome is often misdiagnosed as a bacterial skin infection called cellulitis, says Hobart Lee, MD, a family medicine specialist at Loma Linda University who has researched mosquito-borne diseases.
Though skeeter syndrome is uncommon, the sheer number of annual cases is difficult to determine, Lee says. While it isn't life-threatening, skeeter syndrome can have a profound impact on one's preference to go outdoors and cause immense discomfort.
Who is at a greater risk of mosquito bites?
Mosquitoes may flock to certain people due to natural factors like body odor, but there isn't conclusive evidence as to which individuals are most likely to get bitten.
While studies have suggested that specific blood types and alcohol consumption could invite more bites, these connections are still "up in the air," says Rebecca Heinig, a research entomologist at Florida's Collier Mosquito Control District.
We do know that mosquitoes seek out carbon dioxide, and pregnant women exhale above-average amounts by their third trimester, possibly explaining why they're more prone to being bit.
How to prevent mosquito bites
There are some factors you can control, like location and time of day, that may lower your risk of being bit, says Lee.
Though the severity of a reaction may depend on one's age or immune system, geography significantly influences the likelihood of mosquito bites.
"Those who live close to lakes or places where it's not very clean with lots of standing water are probably at higher risk of getting insect or mosquito bites," Lee said. "I don't think we think more of a certain gender or age being more affected."
Here are five tips for how to avoid mosquito bites altogether:
- Stay indoors when mosquitoes are most active. It's helpful to keep inside as the sun rises and sets. Female mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk because it's when they tend to seek meals, Heinig says.
- Dress smart. Opt for long sleeves and pants or repellent-treated clothing. It's best to avoid dark-colored clothing because it might make you sweat. This can cause you to become a potential magnet for mosquitoes. Therefore, opt for lighter pieces that will prevent overheating, says Heinig. Keep in mind that certain species are attracted to clothing that contrasts with local environments.
- Use mosquito repellent. Bug spray is another useful defense against mosquito bites. Depending on the type of repellent, it works by either masking your scent or producing an odor that wards off mosquitoes. DEET-based products are the "gold standard," Heinig says. Generally, you should look for products that contain 10% to 35% DEET, but there isn't much benefit above 50%. When visiting a highly infested area, 35% to 50% can help prevent bites. DEET is designed to last for hours, so reapplication isn't necessary unless you sweat heavily, shower, or swim.
- Fire may help. Smoke may drive mosquitoes away, though it isn't a fool-proof solution.
- Keep your backyard in mind. You can also design your backyard to fend off mosquitoes, Heinig says. Make sure that the area is free of any standing water so that the insects can't reproduce. Also introduce a a diffuser with citronella oil, a plant-derived substance known for its insect-repelling abilities; this essential oil can help create a "repellent zone," a few feet in diameter, depending on environmental conditions like wind speed. It's also important to install mesh screens on doors and windows to keep mosquitoes from entering your home, Lee says.
Though it's difficult to avert mosquitoes completely, it's best to focus on preventing bites so that treatment isn't always necessary. It's especially crucial because mosquitoes can spread diseases like malaria or carry the Zika virus.
How to know if you've been bit by a mosquito
Common symptoms of a mosquito bite include:
- Swollen white and red bumps that itch and burn
- After a day, bumps may harden, multiply and grow darker
- Bumps may remain for several days and usually resolve within 10
If you're experiencing any of the following symptoms seek medical attention. They could be the sign of a severe allergic reaction or secondary skin infection.
- Major swelling and redness
- Acute pain
- Body aches, headache
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Difficulty breathing
- Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can be fatal
- Skin necrosis, or tissue death
How to treat mosquito bites
If you've been bitten by a mosquito, there are some actions you can take to reduce the itching and swelling. Here are four tips:
- Use a cold compress. For mild symptoms, clean the area and use a cold compress.
- Over-the-counter medication can help. If you're experiencing pain, try taking a pain-killer like ibuprofen. Allergic reactions can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines in either oral or topical form, Lee says.
- Prescription steroids. Lee recommends topical steroids to relieve itching only in extreme cases, like skeeter syndrome. For rarer whole-body allergic reactions, he says, doctors may prescribe oral steroids.
- Patience. It can take 1-2 weeks for large local reactions to heal completely, Lee says.
Related articles from Health Reference:
- How to get rid of mosquito bites fast and prevent them in the first place
- 6 home remedies for mosquito bites to stop your itch and provide relief
- Bug spray can expire, but it depends on the active ingredient
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