If you are planning to escape the winter chills to somewhere exotic, you will likely face the peril of the nasty mosquito. Scientists say that about one in five people are especially appetizing targets for the nasty creatures.
- There are more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes. About 175 of them are found in the United States, with the Anopheles quadrimaculatus, Culex pipiens, and Aedes aegypti (Asian tiger mosquito) among the most common. The Anopheles is a malaria carrier, and the other two are known to spread various forms of encephalitis.
- A mosquito can drink up to three times its weight in blood. Don’t worry, though. It would take about 1.2 million bites to drain all the blood from your body.
Obviously it is important to protect against mosquito bites to prevent terrible itching but also reduce the risk of many mosquito-borne illnesses, such as encephalitis, yellow fever, malaria, or dengue.
Having had dengue fever three times, I can tell you it is a terrible condition you will do very well to avoid, if possible.
If you are one of the unlucky people who is badly allergic to mozzie bites, you have to be extra careful. If these people get bitten, the bite can swell badly for days. The swelling can be bright red/purple and on fire. If the bite is on a knee or elbow joint it can be difficult to bend the joint. This is very unfortunate as doctors say this is not something these people can grow out of.
It is estimated that between one and two million people worldwide die each year from mosquito-borne illnesses, the most common being malaria.
Why You Should Avoid Deet?
Pretty much all of the commercial insect repellents contain a chemical called Deet, which I believe should be used with caution. There are a lot of studies that have found Deet to have various worrying effects.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the “acute toxicity” of DEET is low, meaning adverse effects could be mild. A few cases of seizures have been reported, but the link to DEET is inconclusive, says the EPA.
However, the EPA’s safety review was conducted in the 1990s, and the research it was based on did not adequately explore chronic toxicity. More recent research shows that DEET is a neurotoxin and could have long-term effects. Moreover, DEET may increase the toxicity of other chemicals to which people are exposed. For instance, people wearing DEET more easily absorb 2,4-D, a toxic weed killer that was used in Agent Orange and is now commonly used on lawns. As with chemical exposures in general, pregnant women should take care to avoid exposures to repellents when practical, as the fetus may be vulnerable.
The CDC and EPA support DEET mainly because of the life-threatening diseases mosquitoes can spread. Therefore, these institutions are advising people to bear with this toxicity just enough so that they prevent mosquito bites. However, this does not make DEET completely safe. Recent research on rats has revealed that death of brain cells occur as a result of prolonged DEET usage.
Clearly, more research is needed into the long-term health effects of DEET, especially on our children.
How Can I Avoid Mosquitoes?
You should try to reduce the use of repellents by dressing in long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks or boots when possible. Wear loose fitting clothing which is more comfortable in hot, humid weather. Furthermore, mosquitoes often try to bite through clothing that is close to the skin, especially if the fabric is thin. I have found mosquitoes spear to like darker clothing also. Also try to apply repellent to your clothing instead of your skin.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent mosquitoes biting you. There are various natural remedies that I feel can help prevent the bugs biting you in the first place, and also take the sting out of your bites, should you be bitten.
Having lived with mosquitoes almost every day for the last 20 years I have a fair amount of experience with the creatures. I have found tiger balm applied to certain points of the skin especially effective in preventing the nasty gritters coming close. I apply the tiger balm to the ankle areas, around the feet and elbows, and you can apply to one leg or arm, and use the other to smear to the other, which will lessen the need to use your hands so much. As you don’t want to then wipe your eye with tiger balm on your fingers!! Ouch!
The active ingredients in tiger balm are menthol and camphor. The original Tiger Balm Red and Tiger Balm White have 25% of camphor. A new product named Tiger Balm White HR uses eucalyptus oil instead of cajuput oil.
You should try to experiment with non-chemical solutions such as Citronella which is a natural plant oil. I have tried Citronella a few times and the results were pretty good. But I have found tiger balm more easily available and more effective. Tea tree oil and vitamin B have reportedly helped some people repel mosquitoes. As with any product, their effectiveness depends on the situation, your own skin chemistry, and the exact type of mosquito you are dealing with.
Mosquitoes Can Detect Their Prey from Far Away
Mosquitoes are attracted to a number of chemical compounds that they can detect from a vast distance. Only female mosquitoes bite people. Both male and female feed mainly on fruit and plant nectar, but the female also needs the protein in blood to help her eggs develop. Once she’s had her fill of blood, she’ll rest a couple of days before laying her eggs. One wonders why our creator designed females to need blood to develop her eggs sometimes!
What Are Mosquitoes Attracted To?
- Sweat helps mosquitoes choose their victims. Our skin produces more than 340 chemical odours, and some of them smell like dinner to mosquitoes. They are fond of octenol, a chemical released in sweat, as well as cholesterol, folic acid, certain bacteria, skin lotions, and perfume.
- It is well known bacteria live on your skin and create your body odour. Humans have only about 10 per cent of these microbes in common—the rest vary between individuals. Some of us have a collection of microbes that are particularly irresistible to mosquitoes.
- Mosquitoes are especially drawn to carbon dioxide. The more you emit, the more attractive you are to them. Larger people naturally emit more carbon dioxide than smaller people, which is one of the reasons adults seem to be bitten more often than children.
- Mosquitoes are drawn to both movement and heat. So if you’re exercising outside on a warm summer evening, you’re the perfect target, especially if you are short of breath and been sweating.
- Mosquitoes can also tell the difference between a toilet paper user and a bidet sprayer user. The latter cleaning completely while the former leaves residue which then forms more bacteria the mosquitoes are attracted to.
Mosquitoes Are Attracted to Old Sweat
Fresh sweat is odourless. It is not until the bacteria act upon it. Although mosquitoes are not attracted to fresh sweat, if it’s been a while since your last shower you’ll be ripe for the picking.
A scientific study I read recently reported that human sweat was attractive to malarial mosquitoes after one to two days of incubation. During this time, bacteria in the sweat multiplied, which changed its pH from acidic to alkaline as sweat components decomposed into ammonia.
The scientists also found that malarial mosquitoes are attracted to foot odour. They will even bite through your smelly socks if you hang them up after wearing them for a few days.
Not only do mosquitoes find some odours irresistible, but others have been found to impair their ability to find their hosts. A few of these compounds are secreted by your body. One of these compounds is 1-methylpiperzine, which blocks mosquitoes’ sense of smell. This works so well that mosquitoes don’t notice the presence of sweaty body nearby.
Insect sprays containing 1-methylpiperzine are in being tested. However, scientists are struggling to determine how to keep the substance from evaporating off your skin with time.
Different people seem to secrete varying quantities of these natural substances than others, making them essentially invisible to mosquitoes, which may help explain why some people appear to be more at risk of being bitten than others.
End Your Use of Chemical Repellents for Your Children’s Sake
Deet is used in hundreds of products, in concentrations of up to an astonishing 100 per cent. If a chemical melts plastic I would say it would be wise to keep it off your skin. In addition, if you are not bothered about exposing yourself to potentially harmful chemicals, surely your children’s well-being is important to you. Am I right?
Your children are particularly at risk of subtle neurological changes because their skin absorbs chemicals from the environment much more easily than adults. These chemicals exert more potent effects on their developing nervous systems.
Deet exposure can potentially cause the following adverse health effects:
- Memory loss & Headaches
- Muscle weakness and joint pain
- Impaired brain cell function
- Neurotoxicity & seizures
- Skin irritation, hives, blistering
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Pain, irritation, and watering eyes
What Other Dangerous Chemicals Are Found in Mosquito Repellent?
Another potentially harmful chemical found in many bug sprays is permethrin. This chemical is a member of the synthetic pyrethroid family, which is known to be neurotoxic. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also deemed permethrin carcinogenic. This means it can contribute to lung tumours, liver tumours, immune system problems, and chromosomal abnormalities. Pyrethroids have recently been linked to behaviour problems in children as well.
Permethrin can be very toxic to the environment. Especially at risk are bees and aquatic life. Cats also hate permethrin, with even a few drops being very dangerous. It is used as an ingredient in some topical flea products, so when you see “for dogs only” on the label, it likely contains permethrin.
Smart Tips To Avoid Being Bitten by Mosquitoes
Obviously, the best way to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes is to prevent coming into contact with them in the first place. You can avoid insect bites by staying inside between dusk and dawn, which is when they are most active. Mosquitoes are also thicker in shrubby areas and near standing water. Some useful advice can be found below:
Three Important Steps To Follow Are:
- Mosquitoes require water in which to breed, so carefully drain any and all sources of standing water around your house and yard, including pet bowls, gutters, garbage and recycling bins, spare tyres and bird baths.
- Wear light coloured, loose fitting clothing. Long sleeved shirts and long pants, hats, and socks.
- Try tiger balm to protect yourself and your family. Alternatively, try some of the natural, non-chemical ideas already mentioned.
Bat houses are becoming increasingly popular since bats are voracious consumers of insects, especially mosquitoes. For more on buying a bat house or constructing one yourself, visit the Organization for Bat Conservation. Planting marigolds around your yard also works as a bug repellent because the flowers give off a fragrance that bugs dislike. A simple house fan are also great for keeping mosquitoes away. If you spend a lot of time in your garden, install outside sockets for your fans. Dragonflies are also nearly as effective as bats at reducing the mosquitoes.
Natural Plants Can Keep You Safe From Mosquitoes
Fortunately, there are highly effective mosquito repellents on the market comprising natural botanical oils and extracts that are every bit as effective as Deet, but with none of the potentially harmful effects.
You can also make your own repellent using:
- Cinnamon leaf oil (one study found it was more effective at killing mosquitoes than Deet)
- Clear vanilla oil mixed with olive oil. It smells awesome too.
- Wash with citronella soap, and then put some 100 per cent pure citronella essential oil on your skin. Java Citronella is considered the highest quality citronella on the market
- Catnip oil (according to one study, this oil is 10 times more effective than Deet)
- Lemon eucalyptus was found very effective in a 2014 Australian study; a mixture of 32 per cent lemon eucalyptus oil provided more than 95 per cent protection for three hours, compared to a 40 per cent Deet repellent that gave 100 per cent protection for seven hours
- Use a natural formula that contains a combination of citronella, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil and vanillin to repel mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, ticks, and other biting insects.
Extra Thiamine May Prevent Mosquitoes Coming Close
Thai people tell me a spicy diet is excellent at keeping mosquitoes away. However, I am not so sure. Perhaps worth a try if you are a lover of extra spicy food. A study back in the 1960s indicated that taking vitamin B1 (thiamine) may be effective in discouraging mosquitoes from biting. However, studies since then have been inconclusive. The theory is, taking more vitamin B1 than your body requires causes the excess to be excreted through your urine, skin, and sweat. Vitamin B1 produces a skin odour that female mosquitoes seem to find offensive.
This vitamin is water-soluble, and there is no danger of toxicity. Dr. Janet Starr Hull recommends taking one vitamin B1 tablet a day from April through October, and then adding 100 mg of B1 to a B100 Complex daily during the mosquito season to make you less attractive to mosquitoes. You may also want to forgo bananas during mosquito season, as something about how they are metabolized appears attract mosquitoes. Research also suggests that regularly consuming garlic or garlic capsules may help protect against both mosquito and tick bites.
Some Effective Natural Herbs to Treat Mosquito Bites
Once you’ve been bitten, the objective changes from repelling to treating the itch and inflammation caused by the bite. Fortunately, a variety of herbs and other natural agents are soothing to the skin, and many have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
So, for your occasional mosquito bites, try some of the following:
- Aloe Vera contains more than 130 active compounds and 34 amino acids that are beneficial toyour skin. I grow my own aloe vera and nothing beats the soothing feeling when using a fresh aloe vera plant on your skin.
- Calendula is a herb with soothing, moisturizing, and rejuvenating properties
- Chamomile is one of the most soothing herbs, whether used in a tea or applied to the skin; rich in the bioflavonoids apigenin, luteolin, and quercetin
- Cinnamon can repel mosquitoes and has antibacterial and antifungal properties
- Cucumbers are always helpful for reducing swelling
- Raw organic honey like Manuka honey from New Zealand is made from bees that feed on flowers of the Manuka bush, also known as the “Tea Tree”
- Lavender is one of the most popular essential oils for its calming scent, lavender is soothing and antimicrobial
- Neem oil is effective against fungal conditions, boils, eczema, and ringworm, and it would undoubtedly help an insect bite as well
- Tea Tree oil is helpful for healing cuts, burns, infections, and a multitude of other skin afflictions; also a good antimicrobial and antifungal
- Basil contains camphor and thymol, two compounds that can relieve itching; crush up some fresh herb and apply directly to the bite, or buy the essential oil
- Lemon and lime both have anti-itch, antibacterial, and antimicrobial actions; avoid applying citrus juices to your skin when outdoors, however, as blistering can occur when exposed to sunlight
- Peppermint has a cooling sensation that can block other sensations, such as itching, and provide temporary relief; either crushed fresh leaves or the essential oil will do
- Tea bags on your bites can help, as the tannins in the tea act as an astringent, to reduce swelling
- Apple cider vinegar added to your bath and soak for 30 minutes can help relieve itching
- Baking soda dissolved in your bath can help sooth nasty itching
- Witch hazel and baking soda, and apply directly to your bite to reduce swelling
Hot or Cold Therapies Can Take the Sting Out of a Bug Bite
I use fresh aloe vera from my garden on any itchy area (works wonders for sunburn too). Cut off a few pieces and put in the fridge. Cut off the spiky bits, cut the plant open, and open the faces of the two halves. Rub gently on the affected area, super soothing! Nothing beats the soothing feeling when using a fresh aloe vera plant on your skin.
You can also use either ice or heat to ease the discomfort from bug bites. You can use a simple ice pack to treat painful insect bites in lieu of analgesics. According to an article published in the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, there is little evidence supporting the efficacy of commercial preparations for insect bites, including antihistamines and topical corticosteroids. The authors conclude that the best course of action for mild local reactions is to simply clean the area and apply a cold compress.
Alternatively, applying heat directly to the bite also appears to relieve itchiness, which was confirmed by a German study. One simple way is to apply a heated spoon directly to the area. Just hold the spoon under a warm tap for about a minute to heat the spoon, then press it against the bite for a couple of minutes. Please make sure the spoon is not too hot first. It must not be scalding hot, just warm. Make sure you test how hot the spoon is on the back of your hand before using on the affected area.
The receptors that respond to heat are the same ones that respond to cold, so you will likely achieve the same benefits with a metal spoon taken from your freezer, or simply rubbing ice cubes on it. I have also found that simply covering your bite with tape works really well to suppress the itch.
Actionable Tips to Enjoy Your Time Outside
With some careful thought you will enjoy the outdoors without getting eaten alive. Remember to give tiger balm a shot. I’ve found it to be one of the easiest and cheapest but also one of the most effective ways to prevent bites. Also remember the Three Ds of protection from mosquitoes: drain, dress, and defend. Reducing potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes is the first step to limiting their numbers. Planting marigolds around your yard and maybe installing a couple of bat boxes could also help prevent them in the first place. When it comes to defence, I recommend avoiding harsh chemical concoctions and experimenting with some natural alternatives instead.
Some may work better than others for each individual, as mosquitoes in particular are attracted to certain biochemical components in your skin, and different types of mosquitoes have different attractions and aversions. Should your preventive measures fail, there are well over a dozen different home remedies that can help, from herbs to baking soda to ice packs or heat, whether in the form of a heated or cold spoon, compress, or electronic gadget, or maybe even just a piece of tape. The best advice I can give you is to try different ideas out and see what works best for you and your family.
By Greg Noland
Greg Noland is one of the authors of the OMG Teen Book Series. With his wife and Juliette Brindak, they are creating a series of books aimed at empowering teenagers to live much happier and healthier lives. You can find the latest book, OMG I’m a Teen! Now What? – A Survival Guide for Teenage Girls on Amazon now –http://amzn.to/18SQFCU
Check out The OMG Teen Book Website: http://www.omgteenbookseries.com/
“OMG I’m a Teen! Now What? – A Survival Guide for Teenage Girls will unlock all of your teen problems and propel you towards being a successful adult. The secrets and actionable tips in this teen book are guaranteed to help you hit your target with power and precision every time. Be it improving your relationships, doing well in school, dating or finding the right makeup advice, it is all here in this clear, practical, and riveting survival guide. “
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