Bedbug and flea bites are similar at first glance, so telling the difference can be rather difficult. You need to identify the problem so that you can properly treat it, as both insects can carry several diseases that can be passed to humans (and pets).
In general, flea bites can be felt almost immediately, are usually on the lower body, and typically don’t form patterns, appearing as random small groups across different areas. Bug bites won’t be felt until much later, tend to appear on the upper body, and can form patterns of lines or groups. Let’s break down the characteristics of each kind of bite and discuss how to better identify the insects that cause them.
Characteristics of Bed Bug Bites: How They Look & Feel
One of the easiest ways to differentiate bed bug bites from those of other tiny critters is when you feel them. In general, you probably won’t feel a bed bug bite until long after it has happened. That’s because bed bugs secrete a mild anesthetic that numbs the bite area. But while most people feel nothing (and may not even develop a rash), some develop red welts that swell or itch the next day. With 1 out of 5 people reporting cases of bed bugs or know someone who had bed bugs, it’s important to know as many signs of bed bugs as possible. After all, you can’t address a problem until you know that you have one.
Symptoms & Risks Associated with Bed Bugs
One itchy bump can seem basically the same as another, but bed bug bites display in subtle and unique ways. If you’re wondering just what kind of critter is making your life miserable, look for these symptoms to see if you may be dealing with bed bug bites:
- Bites on exposed skin, usually on the upper body, neck, arms, and shoulders
- Slight burning sensation before the welts appear
- Red, itching welts that develop 24 to 48 hours after the bite
- Bites in lines or groupings
- In severe cases, bites swell or turn into blister-like inflammations
Everyone knows that bed bug bites are incredibly uncomfortable, but were you aware that they also can pose significant health risks? Yes, it’s true that most bite sufferers won’t experience much more than itchy welts. The CDC reports, “Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. … Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection.” Additionally, “an allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.”
In addition to infection, Medical News Today states that you should seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:
- difficulty breathing
- feeling nauseous or flu-like
- swollen tongue
- irregular heartbeat
Characteristics of Flea Bites: How They Look & Feel
Unlike bed bug bites, flea bites start to hurt almost instantly. They also tend to appear in different parts of the body and to cluster in different patterns—essentially no pattern at all. According to Healthline, fleas seek out the following areas:
- feet and lower legs
- elbows and knees (in the bend)
- other skin folds
Another thing to consider about flea bites is that they look somewhat different from bed bug bites. While bed bug bites can grow into larger pustules in the 24 to 48 hours after you’ve been bitten, flea bites generally present as simple small, red bumps.
Symptoms & Risks Associated with Fleas
Like bed bugs, fleas don’t typically spread disease to those they bite. Sometimes, though, they can cause illness. The CDC states that “fleas transmit germs that cause disease primarily through the processes of feeding on hosts or through fecal contamination, when infected flea feces (poop; also called ‘flea dirt’) are scratched into an open wound.” That’s why experts urge individuals to try to not scratch flea bites.
If you’ve been bit by fleas and notice any of the following, you may want to see medical attention:
- Breathing difficulties
- Raised welts
- A warm infection site with white-topped pustules
- Colored discharge
Are There Any Similarities?
The biggest similarity between flea bites and bed bug bites are their itchiness and the red swelling that invariably accompanies both of them. Additionally, while flea bite pictures often show victims’ skin erupting into white-topped papules due to the flea dirt (i.e., fecal material) that the insects often leave behind, they sometimes don’t, which can cause them to resemble other kinds of insect bites or even bed bug bites on humans.
Continue reading to learn the best way to differentiate bed bug vs flea bites.
Where You’ll Find Fleas
While bed bugs typically cluster around, well, beds, bedding, or furniture – hiding themselves in available cracks and seams – fleas have different patterns. You won’t typically see fleas in your bed/bedding because these biting insects prefer to attack animals rather than people. That’s where you’ll most often find fleas. In fact, the most common symptoms of a flea infestation include a pet that seems anxious or agitated, visible pests or eggs in a pet’s coat, or fleas visible in a pet’s bedding.
How to Identify Flea & Bed Bug Bites
In order to determine if you have flea bites vs bed bug bites, you should do more than simply compare bed bug vs flea pictures. Examine additional factors, such as:
- Where they appeared on your body. Most pictures of bed bug bites show them appearing on places such as neck, arms, hands, and/or face. Flea bites typically appear on one’s lower extremities.
- The pattern of the bites. While flea bites can vary in pattern, seeing bug bites in a line or in a triangular cluster of three usually indicates bed bugs.
- Whether or not you can feel the bites when they occur. Bed bugs produce a kind of anesthesia, so you can’t always sense when they begin biting you. By contrast, you can immediately feel when fleas begin to bite.
Treating Flea & Bed Bug Bites
Fortunately, the symptoms of both flea and bed bug bites eventually go away on their own, and you can use the same treatment methods to soothe the discomfort until they do. These remedies include:
- Gently washing the affected area with a cool cloth and a non-astringent soap
- Taking an antihistamine pill or applying an antihistamine ointment
- Taking over-the-counter pain-relief medication according to the manufacturer’s instructions
- Avoiding scratching the welts, which only leads to further irritation
Finding Bed Bugs, What to Look For
If you are still in doubt about the source of your bite, it is good to look for the source. Fleas usually come in on pets, but bed bugs can hitchhike into your home in many ways. They can be hard to find, but a close inspection reveals their presence. Look for these signs of bed bug activity or presence:
- Tiny blood stains on your pillow or bedding (rusty or reddish stains)
- Dark spots (excrement) in the creases of your mattress or seams in linens or furniture fabrics
- Discarded eggs and eggshells: pale yellow skins about 1 mm in size
- Live bed bugs
Bed bugs like to hide in the creases, folds, and seams of mattresses, furniture, and in other small places. Additionally, you may find them in the folds of curtains, in the joints of wood furniture, or under loose wallpaper. Also look in the creases of your luggage after a trip. When you are cleaning, make a habit of looking closely for signs of bed bugs and be aggressive against them when found. A small infestation is more easily eradicated. However, once established, they can quickly take over.
Bed Bug & Flea Killers: Getting Rid of Them
There are many flea and bed bug sprays on the market which offer mixed results. Because the bugs are so adept at hiding, most sprays are unable to completely eradicate the infestation. You will probably kill some, possibly most of the bugs, but those who remain will come back later in full force.
These sprays require direct contact with the insect to be effective, so you must be extremely diligent in seeking out their hiding places to be effective. Bed bugs are particularly difficult to eradicate using a spray formula.
If you do choose to use an at-home flea or bed bug killer, it is important that you follow all the manufacturer’s instructions to protect your family and the environment.
One effective home remedy for bed bugs is to use a high-powered steam cleaner. They can be killed by the heat if you are able to force it into all the nooks and crannies. Again, you must be extremely diligent to find all of their hiding places.
Professionals, however, use two very effective methods of eradicating bed bugs. They use thermal remediation, which is similar (although much more effective) to the steam cleaning mentioned above and they use Cryonite technology to freeze them out.
Smithereen Pest Management Services uses both Thermal Remediation and Cryonite, in addition to conventional bed bug management, to help clients eradicate bed bugs for good. We will conduct a complete inspection to determine the extent of the problem, then recommend treatment procedures based on our findings. We also teach you how to prevent re-infestation and how to inspect your home for bed bugs. If you suspect you have a flea or bed bug problem, contact Smithereen today. We are happy to help.