The Best Way to Relieve An Itchy Mosquito Bite (Without Scratching)

Resist the urge to itch! (Photo: Flickr/John Tann)

A mosquito touches down on your arm, and next thing you know, there’s that telltale red bump — and boy is it unbearably itchy. 

Scratching is nothing more than a distraction — a pleasurable way to direct your attention to something other than the itch that’s annoying you. “You’re not accomplishing anything medically,” says Dan Wasserman, MD, a dermatologist in Naples, Florida.

Anything positive, that is.

What you are doing: potentially damaging the skin you’re scratching. “You can actually [create] permanent changes in your skin,” Wasserman tells Yahoo Health. If you break the skin, you may be left with a scar or something called a dermatofibroma. These firm little growths — or what Wasserman refers to as “scar balls” — are most likely to crop up in areas below the knee, such as your ankle and the lower part of your shin. (And, really, who hasn’t gotten a pesky ankle bite while wearing flip-flips?)

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You also face the risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which is essentially a brown spot that can occur when you injure your skin through excessive scratching, says Wasserman. The worst potential outcome: You end up with an infection, since “one of the dirtiest places on our body is our fingernails,” he says.

Now that we’ve established that scratching isn’t the best solution — is there another quick route to relief, without the potential for permanent damage? Yes, and it’s another form of distraction: slapping the bite. This is a noxious stimuli  — i.e. one that causes a little pain — which is more effective at taking your mind off your misery than an innocuous stimuli, such as tickling the site with a feather. “The nerve stimulation will actually cause a shock or pain,” Wasserman explains. “[This] kind of overwhelms the itch.” In other words, the shock of slapping yourself drowns out the irritation of itching.

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Of course, the resulting relief will only last so long. So if you’re able to access a pharmacy, dose up on Benadryl or Claritin, says Wasserman. And if your itching requires something stronger, ask your doctor for a high-potency steroid cream.

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