Mosquito bites: How to prevent, treat and soothe them as summer approaches in the UAE

Serious illness aside, they can be itchy, painful and uncomfortable, but there are ways to ease the symptoms

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As the winter months fade and the temperatures climb, many residents and visitors will begin asking; why are there so many mosquitoes in the UAE this year? While mosquito surges have been recorded over the past five years, so far this year, woes of a rise in the flying insects are more anecdotal, from complaints in online forums to an increase in search queries and social circles buzzing over irritating bites.

Exact figures are hard to measure, yet it's common knowledge that the potentially deadly insects are drawn to warm, humid climates. In recent years, the UAE has put preventative measures in place to reduce the risk – which may be more important than ever as dengue fever is on the rise – and educate residents and tourists about how to prevent mosquitoes from becoming a problem.

But despite the best mosquito-preventing efforts, sometimes bites can’t be avoided, and anyone who has experienced one will know they can become itchy, inflamed and sore very quickly. Dr Zainab Moalla, a GP at NeoHealth, explains: "Mosquito bites, though seemingly minor, can cause significant discomfort and pose health risks due to the diseases they carry. Understanding how to treat and prevent mosquito bites is crucial for maintaining outdoor enjoyment and safeguarding against potential illnesses."

Why do we react to mosquito bites?

Understanding why they irritate humans so much is a good place to start when it comes to treating bites. Dr Moalla details: "The itchy bites on the human skin are caused by the female mosquitoes sucking the blood. These little, elevated bumps on the skin can cause the body to release histamine, resulting in itching and irritation. Mosquito bites are, in most cases, self-limiting and resolve in a few days, however, the risk of spreading diseases is still an issue, and therefore prevention is paramount."

While it's always best to seek personalised medical advice, Dr Moalla lists some of the ways bites can be treated.

Steps to take to avoid infection

Before turning to oral and topical treatments, start by reducing the chances of infection early on by cleansing the affected area.

Use soap and water to gently clean bites, and avoid aggressive rubbing or harsh body and hand washes. Tempting as it is, resist scratching, using itch-relieving creams or oral medications if necessary.

Pharmaceuticals to stop the pain and itching

Itching is one of the most common symptoms. As well as being uncomfortable, scratching also prolongs the healing process and can increase the chances of infection if the skin around the bite is broken.

Dr Moalla recommends heading to the pharmacy to treat itchy bites. She explains that antihistamines, "are capable of cutting the itching by blocking histamine effects". She adds: "They may be given orally or applied topically as creams or ointments."

If the affected area is particularly painful, hydrocortisone could be an option. "If one anaesthetic pain reliever is combined with a corticosteroid, hydrocortisone creams or ointments will effectively relieve itching and swelling," she says.

Natural topical remedies to reduce inflammation

Red and raised, the area of skin around the bite is often visibly inflamed. Natural topical remedies can help. Dr Moalla recommends applying an ice pack to the affected area, as the cool temperature can narrow the blood vessels, reducing inflammation.

Aloe vera gel, a common natural remedy for sunburn and wound healing, can also help. "Aloe vera gel from the leaves contains compounds that are anti-inflammatory and analgesic," she explains. "It is therefore often used to soothe itching and pain when applied directly to mosquito bites."

Honey can also prove effective, as it can reduce inflammation that causes itching and pain when applied gently on mosquito bites.

Soothe skin and prevent scarring

If you've scratched the bites, you may have opened the wound further and prolonged any skin healing. If this is the case, once the skin begins to heal, continue to treat the area with scar-preventing and reducing topical treatments.

Topical creams containing vitamin E can help to prevent scarring, while eating foods rich in the nutrient can also promote skin health.

Best ways to minimise the risk of mosquito bites

Of course, prevention is always better than cure. Mosquitoes can spread serious and potentially deadly diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue and Zika.

However, these are extremely rare in the UAE – there hasn't been a reported case of malaria since 1997. It was declared malaria-free in 2007. Yet it's always a good idea to practice caution. Here's what Dr Moalla recommends:

Eliminating stagnant water

Eliminating sources of stagnant water where mosquitoes breed such as flowerpots, bird baths and clogged gutters can prevent them from being around your home.

Bug sprays and creams

Check creams and sprays are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency before buying.

Wearing protective clothing

Wearing long sleeves, pants and thick clothes can discourage mosquitoes from biting, especially in areas where mosquitoes are numerous.

Utilising screens and nets

Keep mosquitoes out of living areas, especially as you sleep, with specially designed screens and nets.

Timing outdoor activities

Staying indoors when mosquitoes are most active, that is dawn and dusk, will minimise the chances of getting bitten.

Updated: April 08, 2024, 8:56 AM