What Is Skeeter Syndrome?

Last updated: September 2022

Skeeter syndrome is a type of mosquito allergy. The immune system of people who have this syndrome creates an extreme allergic reaction to mosquito bites. An unusually large inflammatory response occurs at and around the site of the bite.1,2

Doctors first linked this oversize inflammatory reaction to mosquito bites in 1999. Before that, the reaction was often mistaken for cellulitis. Stings from other insects – like bees and wasps – can also cause allergic reactions.1-3

What causes skeeter syndrome?

The name for skeeter syndrome reveals the source of the reaction: mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites you, it releases saliva that passes through your skin. Your body’s immune system reacts to certain proteins in the saliva.1-4

Certain immune cells get involved when mosquito bites occur. These include lymphocytes, immunoglobulin E (IgE), and immunoglobulin G (IgG). The number of lymphocytes impacts the timing of the allergic response. Higher levels of IgE and IgG have been linked to bigger reactions.1,2

Who gets skeeter syndrome?

Everyone gets bitten by mosquitoes. But only a small number of people develop skeeter syndrome in response to mosquito bites. The chance of developing this mosquito allergy is greater in:1,2,4

  • Babies and children
  • People with an impaired immune system
  • People who encounter a new type of mosquito during travel
  • People who spend a lot of time outside in places where mosquitoes exist

What are the symptoms of skeeter syndrome?

Skeeter syndrome is more than the itchy, red, swollen bump that most people get after a mosquito bites them. With skeeter syndrome, a sizable inflammatory reaction occurs. Pain, redness, swelling, and warmth can cover an area 2 to 10 across.1,2

The following symptoms may also happen to a person experiencing skeeter syndrome:1,2,4

  • Fever
  • Hard, thick skin
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Malaise, a general feeling of unwellness
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Certain groups of people may have additional symptoms. Children tend to become fussy. People with other health conditions, such as Epstein-Barr virus, may get blisters.1,2

Symptoms in certain areas of the body may make it harder to function normally. Swelling of the face can affect eating, drinking, and seeing. Pain, skin thickening, and swelling can make it harder to move an arm or leg.2

With skeeter syndrome, the symptoms set in within a few hours of a mosquito bite. And the symptoms may last from 3 to 10 days. Symptoms can happen with each new mosquito bite.1,2

How is skeeter syndrome diagnosed?

Skeeter syndrome is diagnosed by a doctor. Your doctor will examine the site and ask what happened. They will want to know when you were bitten and when the reaction started. They will also want to know about your history of allergic reactions.2,3

Doctors do not use bloodwork to diagnose skeeter syndrome. Doing so would take a lot of effort and time. Because of the risks, doctors do not recommend skin tests or other challenges for mosquito allergies either. These risks include catching a disease from a mosquito outdoors and having a severe reaction.1-3

How is skeeter syndrome treated?

Certain drugs are used to treat the symptoms of skeeter syndrome. Antihistamines – such as cetirizine, loratadine, and fexofenadine – are the most common type of drug used. Oral and topical antihistamines can help reduce itching.2,3

Some non-drug treatments can also ease symptoms. Holding a cold compress or ice pack on the area for 10 minutes can bring down swelling. Placing a paste of baking soda and water on the bite can relieve itching.3,4

Glucocorticoids may be used to treat severe allergic reactions in people with skeeter syndrome. These drugs lessen inflammation. They come in the form of corticosteroid creams or pills such as prednisone.2

Antibiotics are typically not used to treat skeeter syndrome. You will only need an antibiotic if a bacterial infection sets in. A bacterial infection can happen when bites are scratched and the skin breaks. If it happens, it will usually be a few days after the allergic reaction starts.2

What can I do to prevent skeeter syndrome?

Skeeter syndrome cannot always be prevented. But you may be able to reduce the symptoms of an allergic reaction to mosquitoes. For instance, if you have skeeter syndrome and know you will encounter mosquitoes, you may take an antihistamine in advance.2,3

Avoiding mosquito bites can help prevent skeeter syndrome in some people. Here are some ways to lower your chance of getting bitten:2

  • Close doors that lead outside the home.
  • Get rid of or regularly empty items near your home that collect water.
  • Make sure any open windows have good screens.
  • Stay away from wetlands.
  • Stay indoors at dawn and dusk.
  • Use permethrin on clothes.
  • Use products on your skin that keep mosquitoes away from you. These include citronella, DEET, lemon eucalyptus oil, and picaridin.
  • Wear pants and shirts with long sleeves when outdoors.

Talk to your doctor if you have a severe allergic reaction to a mosquito bite. Your doctor can confirm if you have skeeter syndrome. They can also provide treatment and explain ways to prevent future reactions.

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