You know summer’s here when that annoying high-pitched whine is keeping you up at night. Learn what happens when a flying insect makes a meal out of you…
Before the bite
You’re swatting like crazy, but your body heat and the carbon dioxide in your breath are luring critters – mosquitoes, gnats, other biting flies – towards you from more than 40m away. Hanging with your man? Guys can unleash more heat and CO2 – making them bug magnets; however, they have more protective body hair, prompting biters to hop over to your smooth skin. Thanks, liefie.
During the bite
The insect lands and starts probing for a thin-skinned area, preferably one close to a blood vessel. You may or may not feel the bite. The mosquito in particular is a stealth offender: it can break your skin and inject numbing saliva before sucking blood. By the time you feel a prick, she (yep, only female mosquitoes bite) is likely already finished feeding.
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Your body has ID’d the bug’s saliva as a foreign invader. Lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, rush to the scene to kill it off, a process that causes itching and swelling. Don’t scratch! You’ll only make things worse by aggravating newly sensitised nerves.
In a few hours
Insect saliva can stick around for hours (read: more itching). Your best bet is to ignore it. Most OTC “cures” aren’t very effective.
The next morning
Every person has a different post-bite reaction. If you’re lucky, your itching has subsided, though the bite might still look inflamed. If, however, you’re super-sensitive, you could wake with a welt up to 10cm wide or itchy blotches on areas of your body that weren’t even bitten. It’s probably a sign you’re allergic and that your immune system has released an army of antibody special forces. Nasty-looking? Yes. Dangerous? Probably not. Apply ice and take an antihistamine.
Two or three days later
Chances are, those white-blood-cell soldiers have done their job and left the scene. Your bite mark may be gone or slowly fade after a few more days. If you feel any flu-like symptoms, including headaches or nausea, see your doctor ASAP to rule out an insect-related infection like malaria. Headed out again? Wearing light-coloured clothing can fend off biters by confusing their field of vision. Try rubbing on some lemon eucalyptus oil and, when you can, hang out near a fan; most buzzing bugs dislike wind.
Trying to get a good night’s sleep despite the buzzing? Here are seven easy sleep hacks that’ll help get you to dreamland ASAP