Making an X on a mosquito bite with the fingernail of your thumb or forefinger does indeed dull the sensation of itchiness. Unfortunately, the relief is fleeting. But this method does work temporarily.
In this article, we examine why it works, note some potential dangers of the technique, and explore more traditional modes of treating mosquito bites.
How does it work?
When you mark an X on a mosquito bite, you are causing another sensation: pain. Both itchiness and pain are communicated to the brain via electrical signals that travel through the same nerve endings.
So the brain receives indicators for both pain and itchiness from the mosquito bite. But the brain interprets pain as more important than itchiness, and that is what you feel. The itch is, essentially, replaced by the feeling of mild pain.
Why? There is actually good evolutionary basis for this phenomenon. Pain is generally more dangerous and an indicator of a more urgent threat to an organism. Pain overrides itch when both exist simultaneously.
After making an X across a mosquito bite, the itch is still there but it is “drowned out” by the more urgent feeling of pain. Itchiness is certainly annoying, and a signal that something is wrong and needs attention. But itchiness obviously isn’t as dangerous, or therefore as important, as pain.
The concept is easier to understand by looking at an extreme example: Imagine you had an irritating skin infection on your foot. If then you then absent-mindedly slammed a finger in the jamb of a door, you would quickly forget about the less important skin infection.
The irritation and itchiness of the skin infection would still be there. However, it would move to the background of your attention. Essentially, the pain and urgency of the injured finger would quickly make you forget about it.
Are there any dangers?
Marking an X on a mosquito bite does have a significant potential risk. It’s very easy to press down too hard, cutting through the skin. In a moment of mosquito-bite anguish, one might equate more force with more relief.
There is a real potential for a mosquito bite to get infected if the skin is cut. And an infection can cause all sorts of complications, such as permanent scarring, additional pain, and increased length of healing time. At the extreme, an untreated infection can potentially enter the bloodstream and spread to internal organs.
This is why a medical professional will likely never officially recommend marking your mosquito bite with an X. It works, but there are risks. And anyhow, there are more responsible, effective, and medically-approved ways to mitigate itch from mosquito bites.
Instead of making an X, try this instead
Hydrocortisone cream, available without a prescription, is a powerful steroid that inhibits inflammation and itching. The bump of a mosquito bite is simply inflammation from an allergic reaction to the liquids injected into the skin. Hydrocortisone helps block and mitigate this response.
If you happen to have calamine in the medicine cabinet, this works, too. But calamine is not as effective as hydrocortisone. Additionally, sometimes putting antiperspirant directly on a mosquito bite helps, too. Either stick or spray type of antiperspirant is fine.
Another thing you can do is gently massage a mosquito bite with your finger. Massaging increases blood flow and disperses the allergy-causing toxins from the bite location.
All of these techniques reduce how long it takes a mosquito bite to go away. Don’t put any medication on a mosquito bite that is bleeding or infected, however. This will just cause more pain. If infected, keep the bite clean and covered until the skin heals.
Making an X across a mosquito bite with a fingernail can indeed give a temporary respite from an annoying mosquito bite. Just don’t press down hard enough to break the skin and make it vulnerable to bacterial infection. For best results, you can also treat mosquito bites with various anti-inflammatory skin creams.
Please let me know in the comments your experience with these methods. Do you have any tips or advice for other readers?
For further reading, you may be fascinated to learn exactly how mosquitoes can bite through clothes.
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