Flea bites vs bed bug bites: what are the differences?

In Diagnosis & Treatment by Dr. Clinton Osborn

If you experience severe itchiness and observe a bite on your arm, it’s essential to find out what you are dealing with. It can be challenging to differentiate between flea bites and bed bugs because they look very similar. Plus, they also have very similar symptoms of irritation, itchiness, redness, and slight swelling. Fortunately, if we look closer, they have distinct characteristics that help us differentiate them. At GuruMD, we strive to make treatment for minor symptoms like bug bites easy and accessible. With our expertise, here’s our guide to bug bites and what to do next.


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What Are Flea Bites?

If you own a dog or a cat, then there is an increased chance that you may have flea bites. Fleas would latch onto their prey and suck out the blood with their jaws to cut through the skin. Some people are sensitive to the bites because they develop an allergic reaction to them. If you get a flea bite, make sure you don’t constantly scratch. This can make you vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections.


What Are Bed Bug Bites?

Bed bugs can be challenging to detect because they look like mosquito bites. After all, people often mistake both for allergies and treat them the wrong way. When it comes to bed bugs, it’s essential to understand that these creatures are nocturnal, so the symptoms often occur at night. Plus, bed bugs are much larger than fleas and are easier to spot. They often dwell on your bed and come out at night to feast on you.


What is the difference between Flea Bites and Bed bug bites?

 There are specific characteristics that can help you tell the difference between fleas and bed bug bites. The first thing that you should notice is that the flea bites look more like small clusters of dots while the bedbugs are hard, swollen, and more prominent. Usually, flea bites are random, and bed bugs have a more linear pattern. Bed bugs can be found anywhere on the body, but flea bites are usually located on the ankles or legs. Flea bites occur all the time because the fleas are everywhere. However, bedbug bites often happen at night because they are nocturnal, and they feast periodically because they only need to feed once every week. Flea bites can cause skin infection if there’s constant scratching, but bed bug bites usually turn into blisters.


What to do if you have been bitten?

If you have been bitten, the first step is to identify what type of bite it is. Then it’s important to call pest control to prevent an infestation. Usually, these types of bites can lead to severe skin irritation, so it’s best to reduce the irritation with ice and calamine lotion. It’s essential to stop scratching and to find ways to get rid of the fleas or bedbugs. The good news is that the rash from fleas and bed bugs aren’t typically dangerous or contagious. They don’t carry any detrimental diseases, so you are most likely safe. However, if you feel uncomfortable or sick, then it’s best to contact a physician.


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How do you know that you have a flea infestation?

If you think that you may have fleas in your room, then there are a couple of ways to detect this. You can purchase a flea trap to see how many you can kill, or you can create a homemade flea trap to capture and kill these little critters. 


If you’re interested in creating a homemade flea trap, you can place a saucer of soapy water by the night lamp, and the fleas will attract towards the warm light and fall on the dish soap and drown. If you see dry, rusty color blood on the bed, then this may indicate signs of flea infestation. This is especially true if you’re a dog or cat have fleas, and they sleep in your bed at night. 


If the flea infestation occurs in the bed, then you will have to wash the bedding in hot water and dry it on high heat. You can replace the mattress, but if you don’t want to spend the extra cash, you can use the existing mattress with an encasement. You can treat the bed box spring with flea powder that is designed to dissolve the exoskeleton, therefore, killing them when they land on the bed. Keep in mind that you should avoid the room and bed if the flea powder is on there because it can be harmful to your lungs.


How do you know that you have a bed bug infestation?

If you wake up feeling extremely itchy, then that may be an indication of a potential bed bug. Luckily, some signs can help you detect them. 


If you noticed bloodstain on your sheets or pillowcases, dark rusty spots of excrement on the mattress, walls, clothes, and sheets, then there is the chance that you have bed bugs. Additional signs include linear spots, shredded skin, eggshells, in the mattress. These nasty little critters can emit musty odor from their scent glands. That means if you notice some strange smell, it’s best to have the exterminator come in. 


If you suspect you have a bed bug infestation, it’s essential to remove the bedding and check for the bug’s fecal matter or the bug itself. You should also remove the dust cover over the box spring to check the wood framing. You can also peel back the fabric to check the wood frame. Make sure to examine the area around the bed, which includes the phone, books, radio, and carpet edges. Check your closet and clothing for any signs of bed bugs. 


If you find signs of infestation, then it’s time to clean linen, bedding, and curtains with hot water. You want to dry them in high settings. If stuffed animals or shoes are infected, then wash and dry for 30 minutes. Vacuum your bed and surrounding area efficiently, and encase your mattress and box spring with zipper cover to keep the bed bugs from escaping or entering. 


Bed bugs can live up to a year without eating, so keeping them covered and trapped in your mattress for at least a year can destroy them. However, it’s best to get rid of your bed if it’s infested, so you can get a new one that does not have any bed bugs in them. This can save you some time so you won’t have to wash, encase, and trap the pests.


How to treat bed bug?

The itchy red spot from bed bugs will disappear in 1 to 2 weeks. However, in the meantime, you will experience severe itching along with other uncomfortable symptoms. The best way to alleviate the symptoms is through over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or an oral antihistamine such as Benadryl. If you develop a skin infection from constant scratching, then it’s time to consult your doctor for prescription antibiotics.


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How to treat flea bites?

The first step is to resist the urge to scratch because that can lead to potential infection. It’s vital to wash the bite with antiseptic soap to clean it and to decrease the chance of getting an infection. You can also use an ice pack to reduce the swelling. Over the counter creams like calamine lotion can treat the itching. You can also ask your pharmacist for the proper anti-histamine medication. If the symptoms are getting worse, then it’s essential to see a doctor for secondary infection.


How to prevent bed bugs?

The most vital and fundamental bed bug prevention method is to keep your bed clean. You should also vacuum and clean your floors, and also to clean your dog or cat. If you have random clutter in your house, it’s best to minimize these messes and organize your room. Make sure to inspect your furniture, beds, and linens every week to ensure that there’s no bed bug droppings or bug in general. 


You should also cover the power outlet to prevent these bugs from hiding or entering the house through those holes. If you see any holes or cracks, it’s essential to seal them to stop the bedbugs from coming in. When you are traveling, make sure to clean and inspect your belongings when you get back home. With all these tips and tricks, you should be free from bed bugs for life.


How to prevent fleas?

 When it comes to fleas, the first thing you have to think about is your pets. The best flea prevention is to give your pet a flea collar or frontline to prevent fleas from getting on them. This is important because when the fleas latch onto your pet, they can travel with them. This can be very painful if you let your pets in the house or on your bed. 


Another way of flea prevention is to keep your doors and windows shut during the spring and summer seasons, where fleas are prevalent in the area. You can also have insect spray to keep these critters off of you.


When to see a doctor?

One of the significant issues that bed bugs and fleas cause is the constant scratching. This can cut through the skin, leaving you vulnerable to bacterial infection. If you experience pus, fever, severe redness, or any discoloration, it’s best to consult an online doctor for prescription antibiotics or see one in person. If you’re not sure, you can go online and have a video chat with a physician to show him the infected area.


Take-Home Message

It can be challenging to tell the difference between bed bugs and fleas. This is mainly because they have similar symptoms and appearances. However, there is a particular characteristic that can help us differentiate them. For example, fleas tend to cause symptoms on your legs and ankles, whereas bed bugs are all over the body. Plus, bed bug bites tend to happen at night and in a linear pattern, whereas fleas happen throughout the day and in various patterns. 


Despite the differences, the primary treatment modality is to control the symptoms of inflammation, irritation, and itchiness with over-the-counter Cortisone cream, calamine lotion, or antihistamine medication. It’s also vital to refrain from constant scratching or else you could get a secondary infection, which would warrant a visit to the doctor’s office. With the right treatment strategy and cleaning out your bed, furniture, and floors, you are on your way to getting rid of these little critters.

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