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Flea Bites vs Bed Bug Bites (Explained)

Flea Bites vs Bed Bug Bites (Explained)

A detailed guide on how to tell the difference between bed bug bites vs flea bites.

Bugs are a menace, but to make matters worse, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what you’re dealing with. Whether it’s fleas or bed bugs that are giving you those little red dots on your skin, we’ve got you covered. In this post, we explain how to tell the difference between the two bites, how to treat them, and how to prevent them in the future.

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Flea vs Bed Bug Bites

If you’ve noticed a group of small, itchy, red dots on your skin, it could really be a whole host of things. Arguably, the worst possible causes could be from flea or bed bug bites, because it means there are bugs in your home that you need eradicate. It can be even more frustrating to not know exactly where your bite came from, since you probably want to take care of the problem as soon as possible. Fortunately, we’ve rounded up several tips and tricks to help you differentiate the two, and how to get rid of them for good.

There are some key similarities between these bites, so you can tell you really do have bug bites and not something else like chickenpox or hand, foot, and mouth disease (Google with caution). If you have either flea or bed bug bites, the small red dots will be focused in specific areas, instead of all over the body. They’ll also be simple red bumps without any pus or fluid in them, but they can bleed with excessive scratching.

In either case, we’ve rounded up several tips and tricks to help you differentiate flea bites vs. bed bug bites the two, and how to get rid of them for good. Keep reading to learn the difference between flea and bed bug bites, including the telltale signs of each type of bite.

Major Differences Between Bed Bug vs Flea Bites?

Fleas actually prefer animal blood to human blood, but they’ll drink either. Bed bugs almost exclusively drink human blood. But that’s just one difference between flea bites vs. bed bug bites on humans. Check out the chart below to understand other contrasts between the two types of bites.

BitesBed BugsFleas
Bite PatternStrategic, linear rows (often 10 or more)Randomly, sometimes grouped in threes
Bite AppearanceDarker red spot in the middle, with raised skinItchy dark red bumps that can turn into blisters
Bite Location On HumansUsually on the lower half of the body (ankles and calves) or warm/moist areas (bends of elbows and knees)Usually on the upper half of the body (neck, shoulders, back, arms)

More About Flea Bites

Most of the time, we get fleas from our pets. Thankfully, fleas can’t fly, but unfortunately they can jump up to 18 centimeters. As soon as they land on a host, they start biting. If you happen to be allergic to flea bites (fleas’ saliva can be very antigenic), the bitten area can become worse with hives or swelling and blistering. This can lead to broken skin and infections, so it’s important to treat your bites properly to avoid further problems.

Even though fleas typically target our furry friends instead of us, be very cautious, as they can spread disease and can infest your skin. If your pet sleeps in bed with you and leaves fleas in bed, it could become a bit more tricky to determine whether you’ve been bitten by a flea or bed bug.

Burrowing fleas can cause tungiasis, which is a skin infection where the flea digs under your skin to feed on your blood. It happens usually around the feet and toes. The flea dies in two weeks, but it can still lead to skin infections and complications.

To prevent flea bites on humans, take these steps: Make sure that your pet has proper flea medication, and consider restricting their outdoor access during flea season (warmer months). Also make sure to vacuum carpets and clean your pet’s bedding regularly, as well as combing and cleaning your pet. Fleas also hate garlic, so try to consume high quantities of it.

Other Signs Of Fleas

One way to identify where your bite(s) came from is to look out for other signs of the bug. If several of the other indicators are there, there’s a pretty good chance you found your culprit. Like we mentioned earlier, humans usually contract fleas from animals such as house pets, and there are a few clues to look out for to find out if your pet has them.

  1. Excessive scratching or biting — If you notice your animal scratching or biting themselves more often than normal or erratically, it may be a sign they’re suffering from flea bites.
  2. Red patches on skin — Some animals can be allergic to the flea’s saliva, causing irritation and red patches on their skin. They can appear anywhere on the animal’s body, not just where they were bitten.
  3. Hair Loss — This could be an indicator that your animal is having a bad reaction to flea bites, or it could be from excessive licking and scratching from a flea bite.

If your animal is experiencing a combination of these signs, and you also have bites that look like our earlier description, you might want to talk to a doctor or look into different treatments.

How To Treat Flea Bites

Once you’ve determined that your red dots are, in fact, flea bites, it’s time to treat them. First, make sure you wash the area regularly with soap and water to maintain sanitation. Treatment can include an oral antihistamine like Benadryl to reduce any swelling or itching. Next, you should get any soothing antipruritic (anti-itch) cream to help with the itching, which will also make sure you don’t get a secondary bacterial infection. Third, visit your doctor for a topical steroid to use to decrease inflammation. If your bites persist or become worse, visit your doctor for an antibiotic.

Some more natural forms of treatment include using Aloe vera for redness and itchiness or washing the bitten area with black or green tea, which will help it to heal.

You’ll probably want to take extra safety precautions to make sure your home is flea free. We suggest you sweep and mop your floors, spray your carpets and upholstery, and even fog your home. Using a fogger tackles all life stages of fleas because the treatment can be effective for up to 7 months, and it’s pretty affordable too.

More About Bed Bug Bites

Bed bugs are small, reddish-brown and oval-shaped bugs that like to live in your mattress and furniture and bite you while you’re sleeping. They’re attracted to body heat and carbon dioxide. Don’t worry, they prefer to feed on you over your pets. And unlike fleas and ticks, bed bugs don’t carry any diseases, but you can still experience swelling or hives from their bites, just like flea bites. Bed bugs are often found in heavily populated areas like hotels, hospitals, and apartment complexes.

Bed bugs’ main form of transportation is simply crawling. But, they can crawl into your luggage, clothing, and even migrate through holes in the walls, water pipes, and gutters. Most of the time, you won’t ever feel a bed bug biting you, because their saliva numbs your skin before they strike. However, some people report they had restless sleep after sleeping on an infested mattress. If you have bed bug bites, try not to scratch them, as they’ll usually heal up within a week or so. If you scratch or irritate them, the bites can remain on your skin up to several months later.

To prevent bed bugs, make sure that you’re checking your mattress and furniture regularly for a rust color or tiny red brown dots (the first sign of bed bugs), or wrap your mattress in a protective casing. Make sure to inspect your luggage and clothing while traveling, and keep them in airtight packaging while on planes, trains, and buses. Vacuum regularly and wash your bedding on hot, as well. Bed bugs can’t survive in high temperatures.

Other Signs Of Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are sneaky and often come out at night while you’re sleeping. But they do leave a few identifiable traces you can look for.

  1. Red/Brown spots — Those rust color dots we told you to look out for are traces of blood (likely your blood) from bed bugs being popped. If you see them on your sheets, mattress, clothing, or furniture, there’s a good chance your bite came from a bed bug.
  2. Scaly Skins — Bed bugs shed their skin as they get older, and it almost looks like a miniature transparent leaf — a 2.5 mm, scaly leaf. So if you have bites you suspect are from bed bugs, keep your eyes peeled for them on your mattress.
  3. Musty Odor — If your house is also the home to many bed bugs, you might notice an unusual odor coming from their sweat glands. It’s musty, and slightly resembles the smell of when you walk into a stuffy old house.

How To Treat Bed Bug Bites

Let us repeat, bed bug bites get worse if you scratch them. Treating bed bug bites is similar to how you treat flea bites. Take an oral antihistamine or use a topical anti-itch cream to help combat itchiness and swelling. From there, you’ll need to contact your doctor for a topical steroid. Contact your doctor again if the bites haven’t gone away after about two weeks (this is after you’re sure you’ve eradicated them from your home), or you develop a secondary infection. Your doctor may have to prescribe you an antibiotic.

If you want to take a more holistic approach that you can do at home, mix water and baking soda to make a paste. Apply it directly to the bite, and then rinse it off an hour later.

Removing them from your home is easier said than done, and unfortunately can end up being a little pricey. That’s why it’s important to take care of it sooner rather than later, before they have the chance to multiply. Look through reviews of local terminators in your area, and find someone who’ll be thorough enough to spray the tiniest nooks and crannies in your home. It’s much harder to remove them without the help of a professional, but if that’s not an option for you, rubbing alcohol kills bed bugs on the spot. Fill a small spray bottle with it, and spray areas of your home, or directly on a bed bug if you spot one. Your home may smell a little like cleaning supplies, but it sure beats losing sleep because you have bed bugs in the back of your mind.

It’s also important to treat the rest of your home, so spray rubbing alcohol in the little crevasses of your home, and take your laundry to a laundromat where you need to wash/dry your clothes on high.

How to Clean Your Mattress If You Have Bed Bugs or Fleas

If you’ve spotted either of these pests in your bedroom, you’ll want to thoroughly clean your mattress before using it again. Here’s a brief overview of what to do if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.

  1. Strip off all bedding, mattress covers, and nearby clothing or linens. Wash them all with hot water and then dry them on a high heat setting.
  2. Scrub the seams of your mattress with a stiff, coarse brush. Be sure to get into small cracks and use an aggressive brushing motion to get rid of any lingering bedbugs and their eggs.
  3. Vacuum your mattress, carpet, and underneath your bed. Once you’ve finished, throw your vacuum bag away immediately in an outdoor trash can. You should also leave your vacuum outside until you can properly clean it.
  4. Seal your mattress and box springs in a zippered bag. Bed bugs can survive for a year after they’ve fed, so keep the cover on for at least 12 months.
  5. Prevent future infestations by keeping the area around your bed clutter-free. Repair any cracks in your walls or bed frame to give pests fewer places to hide.

Final Thoughts

At first glance, flea vs. bed bug bites might appear quite similar. But as you’ve learned in this article, there are some notable differences between the two, which can help you identify which type of pest you are dealing with.

In either case, you should act quickly when you notice bed bugs or fleas in bed. As a first step, follow the cleaning instructions we’ve included above. From there, you can decide whether or not you’d like to hire professional help for your flea or bed bug problem.