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Discover treatment options and natural remedies for bug bites.

Does every outdoor adventure leave you wondering how to heal the bug bites that come with it? Good news! While itchy and uncomfortable, most bug bites last only a few days. And your kitchen cabinet, picnic or campsite offers several choices to ease pain and itch from the most common ones: mosquito bites.

What do mosquito bites look like?

A mosquito bite is a raised, puffy welt on the skin between the size of a pencil eraser and a nickel. The welt appears a few minutes after the bite, sometimes with a red dot in the center where the skin was punctured. It’s common to have multiple bites in a grouping. They usually disappear on their own after about a week. 

On lighter skin tones, the bite marks are red or pink. On darker skin tones, they may be deep purple or dark red. Over a few days, the bump hardens and darkens in color.

“Mosquito bite sores are caused by the body’s response to the mosquito’s saliva,” says Joseph Hines, MD, a primary care physician at Geisinger. “Your body recognizes the saliva as a threat and sends in the chemical histamine as a natural part of your immune system’s response, causing that uncomfortable, itchy feeling.”

Heal mosquito bites with over-the-counter treatment

If you have a bite (or many), a few days of healing can seem like forever. Fortunately, there are many treatments to make mosquito bites stop itching at your local drug store or Geisinger Pharmacy. Dr. Hines suggests: 

Don’t scratch

Scratching attracts more histamines, which leads to more itching, creating a cycle. It also breaks the skin, which can invite infection. You may place a bandage over the bite. 

Use cold compresses

To reduce swelling and itching, apply a cold compress for five to 10 minutes. At a campsite or picnic? Use ice instead, with a cloth between the ice and your skin. You can use compresses or ice several times a day.

Apply over-the-counter medicine

Hydrocortisone cream, topical lidocaine or calamine lotion can all ease the itch. For extra soothing power, cool the calamine lotion in the refrigerator. Be sure to follow package dosing directions.

Keep it clean

Wash the area with mild soap and water. This will prevent infection if you scratch the bite.

Take an antihistamine.

Using the appropriate dose for the itchy person, try non-drowsy medications like cetirizine (Zyrtec®) or loratadine (Claritin®).

Home remedies for mosquito bites

You may have options for healing bug bites right in your own pantry. “While there are few studies on home remedies for insect bites, some patients report they are helpful, especially in a pinch,” says Dr. Hines. Try these options:

Aloe vera

Also useful for other outdoor skin problems like sunburn, aloe vera can calm insect bites and stings. You can cut open a small part of this common houseplant to extract the gel — or buy it bottled at a drugstore or grocery store.

Baking soda or oatmeal paste 

Mix either oatmeal or baking soda with water into a thick paste and apply for about 10 minutes. Then rinse or wipe away the paste. 


Because it’s naturally antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, honey can ease mosquito bites, too. Dab it on, then cover it with a bandage to limit the mess.

Oatmeal bath

An oatmeal bath is ideal for treating many irritated skin conditions, and it’s especially suitable for several bug bites. After blending a cup of oats in a blender or food processor to a flour-like consistency, put the oats into a warm — not hot — bath and soak your itchy self for about 15 minutes. 


Non-gel minty toothpaste may also work. It contains soothing baking soda and the menthol or peppermint has a cooling sensation. As with other treatments, apply to the skin for about 10 minutes before wiping or rinsing away.

When should I be concerned?

Occasionally, mosquito bites can cause more serious problems. Seek medical attention if a bite leads to:


This is the most common problem, often caused by scratching. It’s a sign of infection when the skin around the bite:

  • Is red
  • Is warm to the touch
  • Has red streaks extending from it

Allergic reaction 

Allergic reactions are most common in children and those with weak immune systems. Seek immediate medical attention for symptoms of anaphylactic shock, which include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness

Virus or disease

It’s rare to get an illness from a mosquito bite in the United States, especially in cooler climates, but diseases like West Nile virus can occur. Seek medical help if you have:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions
  • Muscle weakness

Preventing mosquito bites

Avoiding insect bites entirely means you won’t have to treat them. Some tips:

  • Stay indoors at sunset and sunrise. Avoid outdoor activities during peak mosquito activity time at dawn and dusk.
  • Cover up with clothing. Wear loose, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes to cover exposed skin.
  • Choose effective mosquito repellent. Find a list of approved repellents created by the Environmental Protection Agency. They contain ingredients like DEET, picaridin, IR3535®, 2-undecanone or the oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • Close doors and windows. Keep windows and doors closed or properly screened to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home.
  • Remove standing water. When containers, outdoor furniture, children’s play equipment or tires hold water, they act as breeding grounds. Dump out any pooled water.
  • Clean your gutters. Clogged gutters and downspouts can encourage mosquito breeding, so keep them clear.
  • Use larvicides. If you can’t remove areas with standing water, kill mosquito larvae with insecticide. 

By following these preventive measures, you can reduce your risk of mosquito bites and enjoy an itch-free summer.

Next steps: 

Find a primary care provider
How to treat a bee sting
Learn why and how to use bug spray

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