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Here's how to stop mosquito bites from itching, according to the experts

It's almost summer, and we're back on the menu for our flying foes. Read this before you bug out.

Here's how to stop mosquito bites from itching, according to the experts

Summer's all barbecues, beach trips and fun in the sun until you feel a tingle. Maybe it's on your leg, maybe it's on your shoulder. You absent-mindedly scratch what you hope is a run-of-the-mill itch, but it doesn't go away. Before long, you feel a telltale bump, your skin is on fire and all your brain can think about is getting relief. Yup, you've got a mosquito bite.

The lore surrounding mosquito bites is extensive. Some folks claim that eating a lot of garlic keeps mosquitoes at bay, while others speculate that the bugs only bite people with certain blood types. If you've ever wondered whether any of that is true — or you just want to know how the heck to stop itching so much — you're not alone. We sought out experts to answer some common mosquito bite questions: Why do some people get them and others don't? Can you prevent them? And what's the safest way to stop the itch?

Fun fact: Only female mosquitoes bite humans. According to Dr. Soma Mandal, a board-certified internist at Summit Health in New Providence, New Jersey, they do it because "they require protein from our blood to develop their eggs." Pleasant, huh?

A mosquito "bite" actually involves the critter piercing your skin and injecting saliva into the wound. The saliva prevents your blood from clotting and provides a numbing sensation so the bug can "feast freely," Mandal says. Your body then recognizes the foreign substance, which causes your immune system to go to work. "This immune response involves a release of histamines, which promotes increased blood flow and white blood cell count to the affected area and causes the blood vessels to expand and form a red, swollen bump," Mandal explains. "The same histamine response also triggers an inflammatory response, which results in itching."

So, do mosquitoes only feast on folks with certain blood types? There's some truth to this. "Those with blood type O tend to have a higher risk of being bitten by a mosquito," explains Dr. Chantel Strachan, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University. "However, everyone is at risk for being bitten, regardless of having other blood types like A, B or AB."

Doctors also agree that sweat, body odor and certain chemicals on the skin often play a bigger role than blood type when it comes to being a mosquito magnet. "Other factors such as genes, skin bacteria and environmental elements tend to be more significant in attracting or repelling mosquitoes," says Rachel Lowe, a Utah-based physician's assistant.

Though everyone is fair game when it comes to being bitten, not everyone will have the same reaction. "Some people's immune reaction to a mosquito bite is stronger than others’," says Dr. Kevin Huffman, a Florida-based doctor of osteopathic medicine. "Some people get larger, itchier bumps that last longer. Allergies, skin sensitivity and the number of times you're bitten can cause reactions to vary."

Mandal also warns that some people may have a severe allergic reaction to mosquito bites called Skeeter syndrome — yes, really — that can include excessive swelling, redness, fever and blistering. She advises: "If a mosquito bite doesn't get better after a few days, becomes increasingly red and swollen, or if you develop a fever, headache, body aches, or other flu-like symptoms, seek medical help immediately."

Eating loads of garlic may have health benefits thanks to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial properties, but as far as preventing mosquito bites? No dice. "It is claimed by some that eating garlic can drive away mosquitoes due to its smell, however, this claim has little scientifically proven evidence," Lowe says. Mandal, Huffman and Strachan agree there's no proof.

If you do want to lower your chances of being bitten, ditch the garlic and consider these alternatives:

Bug spray is one of the easiest, most affordable, most accessible ways to protect yourself from mosquito bites, experts say. "The best thing you can do is use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus," Huffman says.

Pro tip: Apply bug spray on your skin and your clothing.

Made with 98% DEET, this No. 1 bestselling bug spray offers 10 hours of protection. It was formulated with hikers, hunters and other outdoorsy types in mind to repel mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, biting flies and more.

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Another relatively simple way to prevent itchy bug bites? Cover up! "Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks and shoes when outdoors, particularly at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active," Mandal says.

Who says protective clothing can't be stylish? This matching set is made from lightweight, breathable linen that's perfect for the summer months. Choose from 10 colors in sizes up to 2XL.

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If you can't be indoors when mosquitoes are most prevalent, it's worth investing in a mosquito net. Lowe adds that netting can be especially helpful while you're sleeping so you don't wake up with lots of new bug bites. Similarly, Mandal recommends ensuring the screens on windows and doors are intact to keep mosquitoes out.

If you live in a hot, humid or tropical climate where mosquitoes are common, this handy pop-up tent offers protection from bites overnight. Some shoppers also use it outdoors as a safe place for little ones to play away from feeding mosquitoes.

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We may be stating the obvious here, but don't scratch them! Yes, it's hard to resist the urge, but "scratching can damage your skin, worsening inflammation and leading to infection," Huffman explains.

Mandal adds that it's important to wash the skin where you've been bitten. "Clean the bite area with soap and water as soon as you notice the bite. This can help prevent infection," she says.

Next, here are few things doctors recommend trying to relieve the itch:

If you're looking for an immediate way to stop the itch, reach for something frosty. An ice pack, a cold beer can, a bag of frozen peas — anything works. Mandal explains, "The cold can help reduce swelling and numb the area, providing temporary relief from itching."

Whether for bug bites or unexpected injuries, reusable ice packs are just one of those things everyone should have in the freezer. This two-pack includes flexible compresses that you can use anywhere on your body for instant relief.

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There's something satisfying about rubbing a soothing salve on an irritated mosquito bite, which makes topical treatments a go-to choice. Luckily, they're also effective. "Hydrocortisone cream that is available over the counter or calamine lotion can relieve itching and inflammation associated with mosquito bites," Lowe says.

People of a certain age will remember being covered in this pink lotion when they came down with chicken pox way back when. It soothed the itch then, and it still works well on mosquito bites now.

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Because mosquito bites trigger a histamine reaction in the body, over-the-counter allergy medicines can be an effective way to treat the symptoms. "Antihistamines, taken orally, can reduce swelling and itching," Huffman confirms.

If you've never taken an oral antihistamine, it's important to note that some shoppers report that they can cause drowsiness. Others say they can take some time to start working.

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Suction devices like Bug Bite Thing are designed to remove mosquito saliva from under the skin, but they get mixed reviews from experts. Strachan says "suction tools can be a great option to try for a non-medication treatment approach."

However, Huffman cautions that "sometimes these tools just don’t work very well." Lowe is also skeptical, saying they "only give temporary relief and their efficacy differs from user to user." Mandal put one to the test herself. "I personally used Bug Bite Thing last summer, and it gave me a large bruise, but it took away the itch!" she says.

Yahoo's Britt Ross is a self-proclaimed "mosquito magnet." She tried Bug Bite Thing on her itchy spots and says the handy tool worked for her.

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Can't get to the store? Strachan says a simple paste of baking soda and water can offer itch relief when you're desperate.

Is there anything baking soda can't do? In addition to breaking down odors, removing stains and helping your cookies rise, experts say it can soothe itchy skin. Who knew?

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