23 August 2012

If you can't zap the bugs, zap the bite

That's the recommendation of a Gizmodo article reviewing the "Therapik" - a device that can be used to apply focused heat to an insect bite to minimize the inflammatory response.
You put the tip of the Therapik onto your bug bite, then you press and hold down the button. The tip uses light to heat the bite up. You hold it there for as long as you can take it, up to a minute. The burning sensation gets pretty intense after 30 seconds or so.

It actually works! Mosquito bites (the only thing we tested it with) stopped itching within a few seconds of taking it off, and in most cases they never itched again. We are officially stunned.

It works on the principle that most insect venom is thermolabile (sensitive to heat). Therapik claims to deliver "heat in the precise temperature range necessary to deactivate the venom from over 20,000 different species of insects and sea creatures."

At first we thought it was just psychosomatic, but after a few weeks of testing, we believe it to be legit. 
I'm not recommending it - just offering it for consideration.  One presumes that other forms of heat would work as well, if the amount of heat can be reasonably controlled.


  1. This is a great tip. Thank you. I didn't know that heat was therapeutic for mosquito bites. The mosquitoes in our yard are so bad that we can't even run out to the garden to pick our tomatoes without being attacked by them. Oddly, we just returned from a vacation on Deal Island, Maryland, where the mosquitoes are said to be horrendous. I saw only one mosquito the entire time we were there. No one in our entire party of twenty complained about or were "bugged" by them. However, Green head flies, gnats, and no-see-ums were ferocious. By the 3rd day my entire scalp was covered in huge, hard, itchy bumps that almost drove me crazy. I assume, pretty confidently, that it was the gnats and/or the no-see-ums. Why they chose me as the prime target of their feasting, is beyond me. I'm going to check into Therapik, and even if I don't get the gadget, I will try using the heat treatment next time. Thanks.

  2. I have a similar but smaller device that generates sparks (piezoelectricity) instead of heat. I found it to be effective when I could use it on the spot (an hour or two after the bite) but I am seldom able to do so.

    For older bites I tried a hairdryer after reading about thermolability and the use of cigarettes. It seems effective, as long as the heat is strong, long and local enough. The skin (on arms or legs only) is locally red, but not burned, I feel relieved like after a strong scratching, but my skin is not damaged and it lasts much longer (to the point of forgotting the bites).

    I am still wondering weither the venom is actually destroyed or I'm just tricking my nervous system with a substituted sensation (burning), a kind of endorphin related to the strong heat or good old placebo.

  3. I saw this on BoingBoing a couple of days ago and was inspired to try something as a result. My wife makes heating pads - actually little pillows filled with uncooked rice. We heat them up in the microwave and use them for all sorts of things. I had a mosquito bite in my armpit, of all places, that was driving me crazy. I warmed up a rice bag for 5 minutes and held it on the bite for as long as I could stand it. Maybe 2 minutes or so because it was almost MacDonald's coffee temperature. That was 2 days ago and it hasn't itched at all. I'm definitely going to get a couple of these gizmos, one for home and one for the medicine cabinet at my cottage in Eagle River, WI.

  4. A home remedy for mosquito bites is to stand under hot water. As has been explained to me, the heat helps release the histimines that cause the reaction, so the itching will subside for a while. I wonder if this is related at all (or if the heat/histamines thing is bogus).

  5. The second paragraph on the second page of the NY Times article linked below has another explanation: “It works by desensitizing those nerves that send the itch sensation to your brain”


  6. Does it matter in the end whether it works on venom or nerve endings?

  7. The explanation given about the device is akin to snake oil sales. The itchiness you feel around a bug bite or a sting (they are NOT the same thing!) is NOT caused by venom. It is an allergic reaction. Mosquitos do not inject venom into you like a bee or wasp does, they do release an anti-coagulant which causes a reaction and thence the itch. Both stings and bites cause the cells around the injury to release histamine and it is the histamine that causes the itch.

    However, the effect of heat is very real. Hot water as hot as you can tolerate without scalding or hurting yourself—between 110°F to under 120°F. How hot you can tolerate will depend on the individual. My usual practice is to apply hot water, and then turn up the heat until I've reached my maximum.

    The bug bite/sting/poison ivy rash will itch INTENSELY as you apply heat to it, and then will suddenly fade. When you remove your skin irritation site from the hot water, the itching will be gone or greatly reduced. This state will last for a few to several hours.

    This effect is medically documented:

    It appears the applied heat affects the blood flow that was exaggerated by the production of histamine. It is this localized increase in blood flow that causes the swelling and redness, and contributes to the itchiness. The scientists testing the application of heat found it reduced the histamine-induced blood flow in the irritated site, which reduced the swelling and irritation of the site. They also found evidence to suggest there may be a neurogenic (nervous system related) effect to stopping the itch. It doesn't actually deaden the nerves, because if you rub the irritated site, it will itch.

    But the important thing is they found that heat will deaden the itch.

    I think it is possible that this little device may actually work as advertised. If it does work, it might be a boon for when one is camping and a hot shower is not readily or easily available.

  8. I do as follows:
    Lit up a bic lighter.
    Let it lit for about 15 seconds.
    Apply the metal part to the bite,
    at first with caution and when
    the metal is still hot but cool enough,
    press it on the bite.
    Works every time.

  9. A few years ago, after a lifetime of being immune to poison ivy, I suddenly wasn't. The resulting rash is the only event in my life I'd refer to as "a living hell," and, in retrospect, should have sent me to the E.R.

    I used every anti-itch medication I could get my hands on, but the hot water thing was equally as effective. I have no idea why it worked, just grateful it did.

  10. The best thing you can do for bug bites is move to Northern California where we don't have mosquitoes or humidity (or winter). Our taxes are pretty high though.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...