Flea bites vs bedbug bites: what are the differences?
Medical Author: Dr. Anita Dhanorkar, BHMS
Medical Reviewer: Pallavi Suyog Uttekar, MD
You may be bitten by an insect and get a small, painful, itchy, red bump on the skin. Some insect bites may be serious and you can see the marks at the site of the bite. There may be oozing from the marks in the case of a black widow spider bite or a wasp bite.
It is very difficult to know whether you were bitten by an insect if you have not seen it. However, the treatment for most insect bites is similar.
What does a flea bite look like?
Flea bites look like red spots over the legs and ankles. They may appear in a cluster of two or three.
The bites are usually present over the exposed area. Marks may appear in a line of three bites called the “breakfast, lunch, dinner pattern.” Some people may experience allergic reactions to it.
Fleas are wingless, 2 to 8-mm long, oval caterpillar-like bloodsucking parasites that mostly feed on humans and animals (cats, dogs, rodents, and even birds). They may jump as high as 150 times their height and travel from one body to another over a great distance. They can survive in extreme conditions for a long time without any food, even for one to two months. They were the most common transmitter of bubonic plague in the past.
If your dermatologist suspects a flea bite, they will inquire about your living conditions and recent exposure after your skin examination. There is no laboratory test to confirm that fleas are the causal agent of these rashes.
If you are diagnosed/suspected to have a flea bite
- Do not scratch.
- Wash the site with water and antiseptic soap.
- Apply a cold cloth to the area to relieve the pain, redness, and swelling.
- Take over-the-counter oral antihistamines to relieve itchings such as cetirizine or loratadine.
- Apply some soothing lotion such as calamine or pramoxine.
- Avoid taking hot showers because they may worsen your itching by incubating the larvae inside the bite.
- You must visit your dermatologist if you find pus oozing from the sores or if the infection worsens.
What do bedbug bites look like?
Bedbugs are small red-brown insects that often live on furniture or a bed. If they bite you, you may see
- Red spots on the body.
- Itching and redness on the site of the bite (often in a line or cluster).
- A painful swelling if you have an allergy.
- Severe allergic reactions (rarely).
If you get a bug bite
- Put a cold wet cloth on it to relieve your pain.
- Do not scratch to avoid spreading the infection.
- Keep that area clean.
- Apply over-the-counter antihistamine cream to ease your itching.
- Use steroidal creams (hydrocortisone) after consulting with your dermatologist.
- Always show the bites on a child to a doctor.
What are the differences between flea bites and bedbug bites?
It is very difficult to differentiate a flea bite and a bedbug bite from looking at the rash. To detect the cause of your bite, your dermatologist will examine the skin and consider your personal history and the places you visited recently.
- Bedbugs mostly live around furniture and your bed, whereas fleas may infest your pets and any rodents in or around your living space.
- Bedbug bites typically appear on the exposed areas such as the face, neck, hand, or arms. They typically appear in a straight line or a zigzag pattern across your skin. However, a flea bite typically appears over the ankles and lower legs.
- Bedbug bites may lead to chronic itchy pimples on your skin or you may get large bumps that are painful and warm to the touch. Flea bites are easily infected by scratching and can form pus-filled pimples.
- Both types of bites are not usually painful, but you should check the site properly in case you have been bitten. With a flea bite, you may break out in hives (urticaria) sometimes, or rarely, you may get severe hypersensitivity reactions such as respiratory symptoms.
- If you have been bitten by a bedbug, the itchy red bumps may last for several days. However, a flea bite takes several weeks to resolve.
How can I prevent the recurrence of flea and bedbug bites?
- Eradication of fleas and bedbugs from your surroundings is essential to stop the continuation of bites and rashes.
- You must make sure your house and surrounding areas are completely treated for fleas, especially larvae and bedbugs.
- You must consult pest control services to address any old furniture and beds for bedbugs. They can address issues with fleas and rodents such as rats and mice as well.
- You must maintain the cleanliness of your home by frequently vacuuming and washing the bed linens.
- You must keep your pets clean and they should be treated for any fleas.
- You must wash your hands after touching pets.