04/12/2012 09:51 am ET

Insect Bite Ointments Don't Work That Well, Study Says

If you're hoping that the cream you bought from the drugstore will actually work to relieve your mosquito bites, you might be out of luck.

New research suggests that most of those over-the-counter creams, ointments and remedies just don't work to relieve itching and burning sensations. The study is published in the journal Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin.

British researchers explained in the study that when bugs bite, their saliva is injected into the human's skin and can provoke an immune response. Responses can include allergic reactions (like anaphylaxis or eczema flare-ups), or can lead to bacterial infections. However, many people experience symptoms like itching, redness, swelling and pain.

The researchers reviewed the available evidence and found that there is little to show that over-the-counter treatments actually work to relieve these symptoms. For example, there's little evidence that antihistamine tablets or steroid creams work to ease itching.

Meanwhile, ointments that contain lidocaine or benzocaine, or that are combined with antiseptics or antihistamines, only sometimes help, the researchers said.

"There is little direct evidence for the efficacy of treatments for simple insect bites. Guidelines are generally based on expert opinion. The symptoms are often self-limiting, and in many cases no treatment may be needed," the researchers wrote in the study.

The researchers offered this advice for what to do if you have a bug bite:

For mild local reactions, the area should be cleaned and a cold compress applied. Oral analgesics can be given for pain, and a mild corticosteroid cream applied to reduce inflammation and itching. Large local reactions can be treated with an oral antihistamine. Non-sedating antihistamines are preferred during the day, but a sedating antihistamine can be of use at night if sleep is disturbed. Antibacterial treatment is not required for simple insect bites, but secondary infections should be treated with an oral antibacterial agent in accordance with local guidelines.

For more information on identifying bug bites -- as well as when to be worried about a bug bite, particularly if it came from a disease-carrying insect -- click here.