Stop the Itch! 12 Quick Household Remedies for Relieving Itchy Bug Bites & Stings
With warm weather come bugs, with bugs come bites, and with bites comes that insatiable itch. Why can't a bug just bite you and let that be that? Instead, you're left with those heinous red bumps and an itch that seems to last forever.
While a mosquito or other insect may just bite or prick your skin, it's actually your body's immune system that causes that annoying itching sensation.
The bite causes your body to release histamines (a type of protein) that tell your body there's something not cool going on. Your body reacts by sending blood cells to fight the intruder (thus the red bumps), and those blood cells begin to expand an multiply, irritating all the nerves around them and causing that darn itch.
Now, I have seen my fair share of House episodes, but I should probably still let a real doctor give you the rundown.
Dermatologist Neal B. Schultz says, "Itching is a low-grade form of pain. The mosquito (or bug) is injecting a material into your skin that causes inflammation, which is redness, swelling, tenderness and heat. That then becomes an itch. The body's natural reaction to the bite is to release histamine, a compound that signals an allergic reaction, which causes itching."
The above explanation is why antihistamines are consistently recommended for insect bites. You can get a topical antihistamine (like Benadryl cream or lotion, for example) at your local drug store. You can also try hydrocortisone anti-itch creams, like Cortizone 10 or Gold Bond.
Cortisol, more commonly known as hydrocortisone, is a hormonal steroid (not the Barry Bonds/MLB kind) that basically stimulates anti-inflammatory or anti-irritant devices in your body, helping to ease the sensation of the itch.
You probably already know about all the store-bought solutions for itching, but if you don't want to run to the store or are looking for something more natural, here are some great home remedies to help get rid of that itch.
Various methods of heat therapy can help alleviate itching. Heat causes the histamines to disperse all at once, giving you freedom from that nagging itch. You can apply heat using a warm wash cloth, a hot coffee mug, run warm tap water over the itch, take a hot shower or bath, or even a hair dryer.
The downside to the heat method is that it's only a temporary fix. By dispersing the histamines all at once, the itch may even come back stronger since the system has to send back more proteins to the bite location. After some time, the histamine production will restart, and your itch will continue to itch.
Similar to heat therapy, a cold pack or a cube of ice will also take the itch out of bites. If you don't have an ice pack, you can always get creative by holding a cold glass of water to the area, or even some ice pops out of the freezer.
The drop in temperature slows the production of blood cells in that area and also numbs the nerves, so the inching sensation is almost immediately stopped. Cold is actually better than heat because rather than dispersing the histamine proteins it just causes the body to produce less.
If you have a ton of bites, soaking in a baking soda bath might be your best option. Add about a cup of baking soda to a tub of warm water, hop in and relax for 30 minutes to an hour. When you get out, make sure to air dry (you don't want to wipe all the soda off with your towel).
If you don't need a full-body soak, you can make a paste to apply to affected areas instead. Mix two parts baking soda with one part water and stir until a paste forms, then apply to the itch.
If you've ever been to a spa, you might have gotten a nice oatmeal face treatment. Commonly used in expensive lotions and face washes, oatmeal has a bunch of benefits. While it may not look very appealing, oatmeal actually does wonders for the skin.
The fats in oatmeal help moisturize the skin while the proteins create a thin barrier that protects it from outside forces. For small areas, oatmeal can be applied as a paste (half oats and half water). Plain steel cut oats are suggested for best results.
If you need a full body remedy, you can also bathe with colloidal, or super finely grained oatmeal. Just dump a cup or two into your warm bathwater and soak for 30 minutes. The oatmeal will soothe your skin and dull the irritation caused by bug bites.
You might have heard that applying mud to a sunburn gives almost instant relief from the irritation. Same goes for bug bites.
If you're out camping or away from home, you can apply a thin layer of mud to your bite to relieve the itch. It's Mother Nature's natural skin care product.
Citrus fruits are anti-itch and anti-bacterial, which makes them perfect for bug bites. If you have a lemon or orange, you can squeeze the juice or even rub the peel right onto your bite.
It may burn a little bit (lemon juice on a cut!) but after the initial jolt, you should feel the itchiness start to taper off.
Although I've never tried pouring Jameson on a bug bite (such a waste), you can use isopropyl alcohol, your common household rubbing alcohol. The mixture usually comes in a 90 percent solution, which will be more than enough to help clean the bite and dull the itch. Use a cotton swab or ball to apply the alcohol to the bite. You can also use alcohol wipes instead.
If you don't have any rubbing alcohol in the medicine cabinet, vinegar is a great replacement. Apple cider vinegar is best, but you can use any kind you've got on hand.
Just like the alcohol, use a cotton swab or ball to apply the vinegar to the itchy spot.
By using your fingernails to press an X directly onto the bite, you can push the histamines away from the irritated spot. This can lessen the itching for a while.
Your brain is a pretty impressive organ, but it can still be outsmarted. For some reason, the mind seems to only register one kind of pain at a time, so, if you slap an itch, the itching will cease as the brain processes the slap you just gave yourself. Obviously it's a not a permanent fix, but if you don't have anything else available it's good for a temporary relief.
You've heard it a million times. No matter how tempting it is to scratch the itch, do not do it. That instant relief is really just worsening the itch and reopening and aggravating the initial bite.
A few other things you can do, particularly for mosquito bites, is making an aspirin anti-itching paste, apply peppermint toothpaste, rub on table salt, use a banana peel, dab on some ammonia, or use a mixture of lavender and tea tree oil. For more information on these tips, check out Yumi's illustrated guide on relieving itchy mosquito bites.
Got any other simple household tips for bug bites? Let us know in the comments section. And if you're looking for a way to lessen the amount of overall bites and stings, check out a few more of Yumi's guides on making DIY bug repellent for use around your home, repelling mosquitoes, keeping ants away, and surviving poisonous spider bites.