The days are getting shorter, the air is getting crisper, the leaves are changing colors**—**and fall allergies are in full swing. Most of us associate seasonal allergies with springtime, but more and more people have been battling runny noses, itchy eyes, and scratchy throats come autumn.If you feel like you’re allergic to October itself, it’s not all in your head. A growing body of research suggests that pollen seasons—which, in the fall, typically lasts between early August through November—are now 21% longer than they were in 1990. And as the air swells with microscopic allergens, your immune system triggers all kinds of unpleasant symptoms if you’re one of up to 60 million people in the US who deal with allergic rhinitis (aka hay fever) each year, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).So, if your sinuses are a clogged-up mess right now, you’re in good company. The number of people affected by seasonal allergies is only expected to grow, research shows, and you may have climate change to blame for that. Here’s why fall allergies feel especially awful lately—and how to deal if you feel like you’ve been hit over the head with them.Why do fall allergies seem to be getting worse each year?As the earth’s climate has warmed, the plants that cause seasonal allergies—most commonly ragweed in the fall—have had longer growing seasons. These plants once died out by October when the winter frost typically arrived and killed them off, but the first frost often doesn’t appear until November now, depending on where you live. “As warmer temperatures extend into October and November, plants like ragweed are continuing to produce pollen later into the year,” Melanie Carver, Chief Mission Officer for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), tells SELF.On top of that, warmer weather can stifle airflow, the AAFA notes, which can cause ozone gas and other forms of air pollution to build, warming the climate even further. And so the cycle repeats: The rising temps further extend growing seasons, which “are exposing people to higher pollen counts for longer periods of time,” Carver says.Some projections suggest that if carbon dioxide levels continue to rise as they have been, levels of ragweed pollen will double between the years 2000 and 2060. This will likely exacerbate symptoms in people who already have seasonal allergies and possibly lead to a spike in the number of people who experience them.How to deal when your fall allergy symptoms feel unbearableFirst, take note of your symptoms. During the fall, it can be easy to confuse seasonal allergies with the common cold, flu, or even COVID. But symptoms like sneezing, watery or itchy eyes, and postnasal drip are key signs that you’re probably dealing with allergies, says Carver. Another important thing to note: Allergies do not cause a fever like the flu or COVID can. (Here’s a handy chart that breaks all the potential symptoms down.)
POV: You just got your ears pierced and you feel fabulous… until you don’t because the area starts to feel irritated. Is it an ear piercing infection? Are you having an allergic reaction? Or maybe your ear is just a little bit (understandably) inflamed after the trauma of getting punctured with a piece of metal?If you’re experiencing redness or tenderness, any of the above is possible, especially in the days immediately after your piercing appointment. Infection, specifically, is relatively rare, especially if you’re strict about the aftercare. But it can definitely still happen because, as with any type of piercing, you’re essentially cutting a hole in the skin and inviting bacteria to crash the area. “When the skin is open and there’s a cut, the biggest risk is an infection, which can spread if it’s left untreated,” Michele Farber, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Philadelphia and clinical assistant in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, tells SELF.If you think you have an infected ear piercing, whether it’s an ear lobe piercing or a cartilage piercing, don’t panic—and don’t take the piercing out just yet. Instead, read on for expert advice on the tell-tale signs of infection, how to treat an infected ear piercing, and when you should send out the SOS call to your primary care doctor or dermatologist.What causes an ear piercing infection? | Signs of ear piercing infection | Infected ear piercing treatmentWhat typically causes an ear piercing infection?While ear piercing infections don’t happen super frequently, they’re more likely to occur if you stray from your piercer’s cleaning instructions or touch your earring(s) frequently, which can introduce harmful bacteria to the piercing, Sarah Lacy, RN, senior manager of piercing research and innovation at piercing-studio chain Rowan, tells SELF. Of course, a professional piercer will use sterile techniques to prevent infection during the process, too, but after that, it’s up to you to take care of your piercing.You can also accidentally introduce bad bacteria to the unhealed area if you take the earring out before you’re supposed to. (You should keep your starter studs, the original earring from your piercing, in for at least six weeks for an earlobe piercing and at least 12 for a cartilage piercing). “Taking the earring out earlier than that will not only increase your risk of infection, but of having the piercing start to close,” Lacy says. In the beginning stages of the piercing healing process, the hole can close up if you leave it without an earring for just an hour or two, she adds.Also note that a cartilage piercing poses a higher risk of infection than an earlobe piercing. The fatty tissue of the earlobe has much better circulation than the cartilage area, which takes longer to heal from a piercing or infection because there’s less blood flow to that tissue, explains Dr. Farber—that’s why an infection in the upper ear could potentially be more severe.1Back to topWhat are the potential signs of an infected ear piercing?Your ear piercing might throb right after you have it done, and there’s a chance there will be a little bit of fluid, blood, or discharge oozing from the area within the first couple of days, too. Any issue lasting longer than that is a warning sign of infection, Mona Gohara, MD, board-certified dermatologist and professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, tells SELF. Along with tenderness and inflammation, symptoms of an earlobe or cartilage piercing infection can include redness, if you have a light-to-medium skin tone; the area may also feel painful or warm to the touch, and you may see yellow-ish discharge or pus around the piercing and/or develop a fever (a temperature of 100.4 or higher) in more severe cases, adds Dr. Farber.How can you tell if it’s just an allergic reaction?You can expect some overlap between the symptoms of an allergic reaction and an infection, including inflammation and/or redness (again, in some skin tones) and swelling, according to Lacy. But allergic reactions also tend to be itchy, rash-like, and may even appear as blisters if it’s a severe reaction, according to the Mayo Clinic. In contrast, if you have foul-smelling or yellow or green discharge in addition to inflammation and swelling, that’s more in line with an infection, says Lacy. And, again, if the infection is severe, you may also develop a fever, she adds, which won’t happen with an allergic reaction.
Are you the owner of a shiny new ear piercing? Congrats! Now it’s time for your most important post-hole-punch task: piercing aftercare. Your new jewelry may look cool to you, but your body sees it a bit differently: Puncturing your ears is essentially an injury. “Your ear has layers of skin, and then under that in the earlobes there’s just fat, and in the upper ear there’s just cartilage, so you’re piercing through that tissue,” Michele Farber, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Philadelphia and clinical assistant in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, tells SELF.Basically, you’re creating a tiny cut in your ear and your skin, which has to regenerate around your new earring—which is why you’ll need to take good care of the area to help it heal. Whether you decided to pierce your lobes for the first time or added a second, third, or even fourth hole, know that different ear piercings heal at different rates (more on the exact timing in a bit). But no matter how long the process takes, there are simple steps you can take to prevent further irritation and potential infection.Here’s what experts told us about how to treat the area right, what to expect during the healing process, and what to do if you’re showing signs of an ear piercing infection.How long do ear piercings take to heal? | Ear piercing aftercare tips | Ear piercing allergic reactions | Ear piercing infections | How will you know when your piercing is healed?How long do ear piercings usually take to heal?The healing period depends on the area of the piercing. “For an earlobe piercing, most of the healing takes place within six weeks, at which time the starter earring can be changed out to another nickel-free piece of jewelry,” Sarah Lacy, RN, senior manager of piercing research and innovation at the piercing studio Rowan, tells SELF. (A “starter” earring is usually a basic stud that’s the first earring you wear with a new piercing, Lacy explains. Piercers typically use starter earrings that don’t contain nickel to cut back on the possibility of an allergic reaction.)For a cartilage piercing (anywhere outside the lobe), “most of the surface healing happens in the first 12 weeks or so; however, the deeper part of the piercing still needs a full year to heal,” Lacy says. That’s why experts generally recommend keeping the starter earring in a cartilage piercing for at least 12 weeks before switching it out for another (again, ideally nickel-free) earring. If you take it out any earlier than that, even for a couple of hours, you run the risk of the piercing beginning to close, according to Lacy. On that note, for both lobe and cartilage piercings, make sure you always keep an earring in your ear for at least the first year to prevent the hole from closing up, Lacy advises.Back to topHow should you take care of your ear piercing while it heals?During the initial stages of healing—the first 6 weeks for a lobe piercing and 12 weeks for a cartilage piercing—experts say you should follow the steps listed below to keep the area clean and infection-free.Wash the area daily.First things first: You need to wash your hands with soap and water every time before touching your ear or ear piercing to avoid adding potentially harmful bacteria to the area, says Dr. Farber. She recommends washing your ear piercing and the area around it once a day throughout the entire 6- or 12-week healing process with a gentle antibacterial soap (we like Dial Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap, $2, Amazon) and warm water (doing this in the shower is fine). After washing, pat the area dry with a clean tissue or paper towel.Keep bad bacteria away.Aside from your daily soap and water cleanse, you’ll also want to further clean the area 2 to 3 times daily for the first 6 or 12 weeks (again, depending on whether it’s an earlobe or cartilage piercing) using an antibacterial solution to reduce your chances of infection. You can use a cotton swab dipped in a little rubbing alcohol to clean around the area, Mona Gohara, MD, board-certified dermatologist and professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, tells SELF. But it’s important to note that alcohol can be quite harsh, especially if you have sensitive skin. “Alcohol, although great at temporarily killing surface-level germs, is very drying to the skin when used repeatedly, which can cause irritation and delay healing,” says Lacy, who gives the same warning about hydrogen peroxide.
In fact, the little buggers can sense carbon dioxide from as far as 180 to 230 feet away.1 As they fly closer to you and sense the heat of your body, they’ll start to detect other cues on this list, like body odor, which may solidify your status as a blood meal.Since it’s not possible to stop releasing carbon dioxide, it’s worth keeping this factor in mind (and taking extra precautions) before a strenuous outdoor workout in really buggy areas, especially during the prime mosquito hours of dawn or dusk.3. You’re working up a sweat.On that note, if you’re breathing heavily in the hot summer sun, sweating is probably inevitable, which also “marks you as a target,” Dr. Ascher says. That’s because mosquitoes are drawn to lactic acid, a significant compound in sweat, particularly when combined with carbon dioxide, says Dr. Pereira. “Because active people are producing lots of lactic acid, mosquitoes are strongly attracted to them,” he notes. In fact, research shows that mosquitoes have a distinct smell receptor in their antennae that responds to the chemicals in human sweat.24. You prefer to wear dark clothing.Yes, these insects are drawn to dark colors set against high-contrast backgrounds, simply because you may be easier to spot once the carbon dioxide lures them in, according to a 2022 paper published in Nature Communications.3 For example, if you’re lounging on bright green grass while wearing a black shirt in the daytime, you may be a feast for little mosquito eyes. Consider switching to lighter-colored clothing in the summer—it has the bonus of potentially helping you feel cooler in the heat.5. You happen to be pregnant.With all the bodily changes that you deal with during pregnancy, you’d think the insect world would have the decency to leave you alone. Unfortunately, mosquitoes are particularly attracted to pregnant people, says Dr. Ascher, and this comes down to a couple of factors: greater carbon dioxide output and higher body temperature. The hormonal fluctuations that occur during pregnancy cause you to breathe more deeply and quickly, according to experts at Harvard Health, ultimately causing you to release more mosquito-attracting carbon dioxide. Additionally, as the uterus expands, it pushes against the abdomen, which can place pressure on the lungs, further contributing to heavy breathing.As for body temp? During pregnancy, the fetus also emits heat, which increases your overall body temperature. Again, this can make you extra attractive to mosquitoes, who seek out heat.36. Your blood type might even play a role.Some mosquitoes might have a preference for a specific blood type, says Dr. Periera, as certain species may have evolved around groups of people who had more of one type of blood. A small 2019 study published in the American Journal of Entomology found that to be the case with type O blood, specifically, but this research was done in a controlled environment, so Dr. Periera says to take that finding with a grain of salt. “Despite any preferences, mosquitoes will still bite people with different blood types.”Here’s how to prevent mosquito bites, even if they seem to be super attracted to you.Okay, so you know that mosquitoes seem to adore you, but what can you do about it? Here are a few expert-approved ways to reduce your risk of a gnarly bite:
Eczema can cause pink to brownish-gray patches of inflamed skin, depending on your skin tone, especially on your hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, and around the elbows and knees. One thing to keep in mind: “Eczema is more commonly found on the inside of the knees and elbows,” Dr. Wassef says. “Psoriasis is more common on the outside of the elbows and knees.”Those rashes are a little different from what you’d see compared to, say, plaque psoriasis, board-certified dermatologist Ife J. Rodney, MD, founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics and professor of dermatology at Howard University and George Washington University, tells SELF. Psoriasis tends to be more raised and can have that silver or grayish scale on top of the irritation. While both eczema and psoriasis can cause itching, the latter can also be painful, Dr. Rodney says. A stinging or burning sensation is also common with psoriasis.The main triggers also tend to be different. Eczema triggers, per the AAD, tend to be irritants or allergens that touch the skin and set off a reaction, like certain foods or ingredients in skin-care products and soaps. In this case, it’s common for the rash to just show up in the one affected spot, Dr. Rodney points out. Psoriasis triggers aren’t as cut-and-dry; flares are typically related to stress, weather changes, illnesses and infections, skin injuries, and certain medications, according to the AAD, but contact with irritating substances may worsen affected areas as well.Psoriasis vs. hivesHives are raised, itchy bumps that can form on your skin in response to a trigger, like an allergen or an infection, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI). While you probably won’t confuse plaque psoriasis with hives, the differences are a little less clear when it comes to guttate psoriasis, since this type of psoriasis shows up as tear-drop-shaped, inflamed lesions that can look similar to hives.However, there are a few differences in the look and feel between guttate psoriasis and hives. “Hives usually start and end within 24 hours, while psoriasis can last for weeks and months,” Dr. Wassef says. Hives are also “very itchy” and can get more swollen when you scratch, she adds, which isn’t usually the case with guttate psoriasis.Guttate psoriasis also usually follows an upper respiratory infection like strep throat, according to Mount Sinai experts, and the bumps tend to be scaly. Hives, on the other hand, tend to resemble swollen bug bites, per the ACAAI.Nail psoriasis vs. fungal infectionIf one or more of your nails start to become discolored, lift up from the nail bed, or even appear crumbly, it’s easy to think you might have some kind of fungal infection. But all of those can be signs of nail psoriasis as well, which the AAD says about half of people with plaque psoriasis will experience at some point. Both conditions can appear quite similar, but there are a few differences. With nail psoriasis, “the nail can develop pitting, stripes, and become so brittle that they crumble,” Dr. Rodney says, but there often isn’t as noticeable discoloration. With a fungal nail infection, the entire nail will often turn yellow or brownish. Fungal infections can also be stinky, per Dr. Rodney.
Another scenario is your poison ivy rash could appear to spread. This is actually because your skin may absorb the oil at different times on varying parts of the skin that came in contact with the plant, so the rash may appear at different times, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).A poison ivy rash doesn’t usually cause long-term symptoms or skin damage, but you may notice some areas of hyperpigmentation or slightly darker skin where the rash formed. 2 Because poison ivy can cause intense itching and blistering, you’re also more vulnerable to a possible skin infection if you scratch the area incessantly and introduce bacteria, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you notice pus oozing from the blisters, warmth in the area, or a fever, it’s time to call your doctor.Back to topHow do I know I’m dealing with poison ivy rash symptoms and not something else?A poison ivy rash can look like a lot of other skin issues, which makes it tough to know exactly what you need to treat. Some other skin symptoms that may look like a reaction to poison ivy include:Reactions to similar plants that contain urushiol, such as poison oak. This means the treatment would generally be the same.Pemphigus is a rare group of autoimmune disorders that causes blisters to appear on the skin and mucous membranes in the nose, mouth, eyes, throat, and genitals.Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that causes a very painful rash.Allergic reactions to medications can start as a rash with spots that spread and merge.If you’ve been outside and working with plants (like pulling weeds or hiking), this may be a clue that your rash is due to poison ivy, oak, sumac, or another type of plant your skin may not have agreed with.Back to topWhat are the best treatments and home remedies for a poison ivy rash?If you know you have come in contact with poison ivy, the first thing you should do is to wash any affected areas with soap and water. The leaves have a plant oil that likes to stick to your skin and spread if not properly washed off, per the Mayo Clinic. If a rash develops, over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream can be helpful with the itching and inflammation, Dr. Flamm says. Applying calamine lotion, that chalky pink paste you likely used on bug bites as a kid, may also help to reduce itching and discomfort.“Cool compresses, colloidal oatmeal baths, and oral antihistamines can also be helpful for the itchiness associated with the rash,” Dr. Flamm adds. Just note that while taking antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may help, applying topical antihistamine creams can actually make your rash worse.1While most people can treat poison ivy at home, there are some times when you may not be most people. If your rash involves your face or a significant portion of your body, is affecting your daily life because it’s extremely itchy or painful, or just seems to be getting worse, it’s time to ask a pro for help. “Your doctor can prescribe you stronger topical or oral medications to help with the rash and itch,” Dr. Flamm explains.
If you regularly wake up with your face nuzzled against a furry rump, it’s probably safe to say your bedtime routine includes beckoning a Fido or Fluffy into bed for a snooze. Dogs and cats are no strangers to the comforts of human beds, according to a study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings,1 with around half of pet owners saying they allow their cat or dog to sleep in their bedroom. (It’s me, I’m pet owners.)But all it takes is a what-the-hell-are-you-doing stare from a new partner to realize that not everyone feels comfortable inviting a furry friend into their personal sleep space. Whether or not to co-sleep with your animals is a controversial question that can set off all sorts of debates between bedfellows of the human sort. Some may even argue that sharing a bed with a dog or cat can be hazardous to your health.So let’s settle this once and for all—with the help of an infectious disease specialist.What could happen if you sleep with your pet?Generally speaking, letting a dog or cat sleep in your bed is safe for most adults, Luis Ostrosky, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann UT Health Houston, tells SELF. In fact, Dr. Ostrosky is a member of the dog-in-bed club himself. Grover, his family’s Airedale terrier, gets cozy under the covers nightly. However, Dr. Otrosky cautions that there are a few things you should keep in mind if you do choose to share a sleeping surface with your pet.The big one is harmful bacteria: Though it’s fairly rare, pets can transmit certain bacteria to their owners. There are a few to keep in mind so that you can see a doctor if you suspect something is up. If your pet licks a cut or scrape on your skin, you could get a pasteurella multocida skin infection,2 says Dr. Ostrosky. Pasteurella multocida will cause the injury to become swollen, inflamed, and tender. There’s also capnocytophaga, he explains, which can spread to your skin from close contact with a pet and may cause blisters around the wound, pus drainage, fever, and chills. People who have compromised immune systems due to cancer treatment or immunosuppressant medications are at a higher risk of complications from these types of bacteria—especially infections from capnocytophaga, which can quickly progress and even become fatal, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).And even though Fluffy licking your arm might seem sweet, he could still be carrying the bacteria staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can be passed to humans. MRSA can cause deep, infected abscesses on your skin.Last up is a parasite called toxoplasma gondii, which could be an unwelcome gift to people who cozy up with their cats at bedtime. It’s actually a pretty common parasite—11% of people in the U.S. over the age of six carry this parasite without having symptoms.3 However, this parasite can lead to an infection called toxoplasmosis, which causes fever, chills, headaches, and other neurological symptoms. Again, people with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of developing this kind of complication. And if you’re pregnant and a cat owner, you should talk with your ob-gyn about toxoplasmosis, as this type of infection can affect the fetus, says Dr. Ostrosky.
We’re sure you’ve been there at some point: minding your own business, smelling the roses, when a big, fuzzy insect starts buzzing around you a bit too close for comfort. While bees are typically harmless when left alone, pissing one off can lead to a shockingly painful sting.“Bee stings usually feel like a sharp prick or burning sensation,” Kara Wada, MD, clinical assistant professor in the division of allergy immunology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and founder of the Crunchy Allergist, tells SELF.That’s because the bee’s stinger that is used to pierce the skin contains venom—an acidic mixture full of proteins, enzymes, and other compounds that helps the bee defend itself against predators.1 When bee venom enters the skin, it immediately begins to cause a local reaction, leading to symptoms like pain, inflamed skin, and swelling, most of which usually resolve in several hours, according to the Mayo Clinic.“A smaller number of people will get what’s called a large local reaction, and it might be four to five inches of redness, swelling, tenderness, and pain—it can take about a week and a half for that to go down,” Wendy Johnson, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at Tribeca Pediatrics in New York, tells SELF. While this reaction generally isn’t dangerous, it’s certainly more intense than the mild reaction that most people experience. Then there are people who can have a more severe allergic reaction that leads to intense pain, swelling, or even anaphylaxis. This is rare, but it can be life-threatening without emergency treatment (we’ll dive into all these details below).Thankfully if you’re not having a severe reaction that requires immediate help but you still want to make the pain go away fast, you have a few options. Ahead, experts explain how to treat a bee sting to make it feel better as soon as possible.First, it’s important to know how to remove a bee stinger safelyBefore you do anything you’ll want to check to see if the bee’s stinger is still in your skin. If you don’t see a stinger, it’s possible that you were stung by a wasp, hornet, or another insect. That’s because one of the major differences between bees and other stinging insects is that bees have a barbed stinger that remains in the skin long after the bee has left. Because of this barbed stinger, a bee can only sting you once, whereas insects like wasps have a straight stinger that allows them to sting you multiple times.If you do notice a small black stinger sticking out of your skin, it’s extremely important to remove that stinger right away, “because most of the venom gets released in about the first three seconds or so,” says Dr. Johnson. If you can get it out right away, you may avoid some of the symptoms, or at least reduce their severity.You’ll want to use something with a blunt tip to scrape it off. “The best way to do this is to use a credit card at a 45° angle to the surface of the skin and scrape away from the sting,” says Dr. Wada. If you don’t have a credit card on hand, the next best thing is the back of your fingernail, she says.Whatever you do, avoid squeezing the stinger to get it out. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), even using a tool like tweezers to pluck the stinger out can push that venom deeper into the skin. When possible, stick to using something blunt that can “catch” the stinger directly and pull it out.Back to topWhat to put on a bee sting for quick reliefTreating your bee sting at home is the quickest and easiest way to reduce your symptoms. “The goal is to decrease the swelling, inflammation, and pain once you get the stinger out,” says Dr. Johnson. Here are the best steps to take:Wash the sting and surrounding area with soap and water.After you’ve safely removed the stinger from the skin, one of the first things to do is wash the area around the sting gently with soap and water. If you do this before applying anything else, you can help reduce the risk of an infection.Use a cold pack and slather on hydrocortisone cream.After you’ve washed and dried the area around the sting, there are a couple of things that experts recommend. First up: a cold pack. You’ll want to wrap something around the cold compress, like a towel, to keep it from irritating the skin. This can reduce pain, tenderness, and swelling, says Dr. Wada. You can do a routine of 10 minutes on then 10 minutes off for a total of 30 to 60 minutes, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. You can also apply over-the-counter (OTC) 1% hydrocortisone cream up to three times per day to reduce inflammation and itching.Or apply calamine lotion.Another OTC option is calamine lotion (you know, that signature creamy, pink solution your mom probably slathered on you as a kid). This stuff is a mixture of various compounds that can help reduce the itchiness and irritation caused by many bug bites and stings. Calamine lotion is considered safe for children and infants, so it’s a good option to consider in younger children who have been stung.2Take an OTC pain reliever.As for pain relief, there are plenty of safe and effective OTC options available—but Dr. Johnson recommends using something that targets both inflammation and pain, like ibuprofen. In people who can’t take ibuprofen, acetaminophen works just as well to at least help reduce pain, according to the AAD.Consider talking with your doctor about a prescription.Sometimes a large local reaction won’t respond to things like over-the-counter pain relievers or medicated creams. In such cases, “these reactions may benefit from a prescription-strength cortisone, especially if the swelling and symptoms are bothersome,” says Dr. Wada.
Many people with allergies experience mild symptoms, like itchy eyes, that are annoying but generally harmless. But some allergic reactions called anaphylaxis can be so severe that they become life-threatening. Anyone with allergies can experience anaphylaxis. However, some people with other underlying medical conditions, such as allergic asthma, may be even more susceptible to having a severe reaction, meaning it’s especially important for them to have anaphylaxis on their radar.Normally, your immune system attacks potentially harmful substances like viruses and bacteria to keep you feeling healthy, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). In people with allergies, the immune system attacks a benign substance, like food or tree pollen. The same basic process happens during anaphylaxis, except the reaction and symptoms are more severe1 and affect the entire body rather than an isolated area, like the upper respiratory system.About 1 in 50 people in the U.S. have experienced anaphylaxis, but some experts believe the rate is even higher, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). You can’t predict when you or someone you love may have a really severe allergic reaction, but you can identify anaphylaxis and react quickly if you ever need to.Here’s what happens during anaphylaxis:First, you are exposed to an allergen.Allergens are essentially substances that trigger an allergic response in your body. They can be ingested, touched, injected, or inhaled, according to the AAFA. Allergens vary by person, but foods are one of the primary causes of anaphylaxis, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Common culprits include:EggsCow’s milkMany types of nuts, including peanuts, cashews, and walnutsShellfish such as shrimp, lobster, and clamsFishSoy, which is found in numerous foods like edamame, ice cream, and tempehWheat, a common ingredient in bread, cereals, and pastaMedicines (most often injectable medications), insect venom from bees and wasps, and latex can also trigger anaphylaxis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Very rarely, some people experience anaphylaxis during intense physical exercise, such as running, for unknown reasons, according to the Cleveland Clinic.Your body reacts, setting off a wave of symptoms.Once your immune system senses that you have been exposed to an allergen, it launches an attack, releasing inflammatory chemicals such as histamine to fight off the perceived invader.“Anaphylactic symptoms occur because your immune system is releasing several chemicals in large quantities after the allergen exposure,” Thanai Pongdee, MD, an immunologist from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., tells SELF.An anaphylactic reaction typically occurs within minutes or seconds of exposure to an allergen, according to the Mayo Clinic. But anaphylaxis can also be delayed for hours, which can make it a little more difficult to figure out the potential trigger.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why some people develop an allergy to mosquito bites. One 2021 review published in Allergology International suggests that it could be due to differences in susceptibility between people, which can be affected by everything from the species of the mosquito to the number of times someone is bitten, among other factors.2Back to topWhat are the risk factors for a mosquito bite allergy?“Studies have indicated that those that are frequently outdoors, young children, and newcomers or visitors to an area with a different species of mosquito may have more robust local reactions,” shares Dr. Wada.One of the reasons that younger children and visitors may be more likely to experience a severe reaction to mosquito bites is due to their lack of exposure—as it turns out, being bitten more can actually desensitize the body. One 2017 study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Allergy and Immunology found that younger children were more likely to experience both delayed and immediate mosquito bite reactions, while older children seemed to experience less severe reactivity when bitten.3 “Interestingly those with immune deficiencies may have increased reactions, too,” adds Dr. Wada. Back to topHow do you treat an allergic reaction to mosquito bites?Unless you’re having a severe allergic reaction to a mosquito bite, most mosquito bite allergy symptoms can be handled at home. “Using over-the-counter, long-acting oral antihistamines like loratadine, cetirizine, or fexofenadine can help decrease itching—as can a topical steroid cream,” says Dr. Wada. Simply applying ice and taking ibuprofen can also help with itching and swelling.Even if you’re treating your symptoms at home, it can still be helpful to touch base with your doctor on what options might work best for you and your specific symptoms. Though, Dr. Wada does recommend avoiding one topical medication—diphenhydramine, a common antihistamine found in Benadryl products—because it may lead to an allergic skin rash if used for a long period of time.If your symptoms aren’t responding to traditional over-the-counter antihistamines or steroid creams, consider consulting with a specialist who can prescribe a stronger medication. “More often, a prescription-strength cream may be much more effective,” Dr. Wada says. For people with a true systemic allergic reaction to mosquito bites, immunotherapy, or allergy shots, may also be considered. With immunotherapy, the allergen is introduced in small amounts. Over time, the body becomes desensitized to the allergen.Back to topWhen is a mosquito bite allergy reaction an emergency?If you notice any of the symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as wheezing, dizziness, or fainting, after being bitten by a mosquito, it’s important to seek medical attention right away.Dr. Wada also mentions that there’s another potential mosquito complication that would warrant medical attention. “Scratching mosquito bites can open up the skin to developing a secondary bacterial infection called cellulitis,” she warns. “If this is left untreated it can progress and be dangerous.”If you’re experiencing any swelling, redness, or pain that continues to worsen within the days after the initial bite or is accompanied by symptoms like a fever or chills, Dr. Wada recommends seeing a medical professional right away.Back to topHow to prevent mosquito bites“Prevention of bites is the best treatment,” explains Dr. Wada, but of course, that’s not always easy to accomplish. The CDC recommends a few tips to keep in your back pocket:Create an unwelcome environment for mosquitoes.You’ll often find mosquitoes in warm, damp places, so one of the best things you can do inside your home is to keep it cool and clean. “Make sure screens on windows and doors are well maintained,” recommends Dr. Wada, as this can help keep mosquitoes from entering your home. And whenever possible, try to keep your home clear of any standing water containers that may attract mosquitoes.Wear clothing that covers and protects your skin.By the time you even realize you’re in the presence of a mosquito, there’s a high chance it’s already beelined for your uncovered skin. Even though it can be hard to cover up in the middle of summer, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants can help protect your skin from mosquito bites, especially if you’re camping. “You can also find clothing and camping gear that is made with fabric treated with permethrin,” says Dr. Wada, which is a safe and effective EPA-approved insecticide. You can also buy permethrin and treat clothing yourself.Follow EPA recommendations for mosquito repellantsWhen it comes to mosquito repellants, EPA-registered products are the safest and most effective options when used properly. While there are plenty of choices among EPA-approved repellents, Dr. Wada mentions that DEET and picaridin are particularly effective. “Citronella and lemon eucalyptus oil may have some effect, but are relatively short-acting lasting 20 minutes and two hours respectively,” she says.Back to topSources:American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, Take a Bite Out of Mosquito StingsInternational Archives of Allergy and Immunology, Mosquito Allergy: Immune Mechanisms and Recombinant Salivary AllergensAllergology International, Hypersensitivity to Mosquito Bites: A Versatile Epstein–Barr Virus Disease With Allergy, Inflammation, and MalignancyAsian Pacific Journal of Allergy and Immunology, Mosquito Allergy in Children: Clinical Features and Limitation of Commercially-Available Diagnostic TestsRelated: