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How Do You Know if It's a Bed Bug Bite or a Flea Bite?

Reviewed on 2/26/2021

What are bed bug bites and flea bites?

Both fleas and bed bugs can live indoors and bite humans to feed on their blood. Bed bug bites appear in a group or a line. Flea bites are itchy, raised bumps.
Both fleas and bed bugs can live indoors and bite humans to feed on their blood. Bed bug bites appear in a group or a line. Flea bites are itchy, raised bumps.

Both fleas and bed bugs can live indoors and bite humans to feed on their blood. How can you tell the difference between their bites? Learn more about flea bites and bed bug bites

Insect bites are irritating and uncomfortable. The situation is even worse when in your own home, since the house will need to be treated to get rid of the insects. 

Bed bugs and fleas are both bugs that feed on human blood. There are a few differences between the two species. Figuring out what kind of bugs you have can help you determined what kind of bite you have.

What are bed bug bites

Bed bug bites come from bed bugs, which are tiny parasitic bugs. Bed bugs are no bigger than an apple seed and are brown with a balloon-like shape.

Female bed bugs can lay between 1 and 3 eggs per day and 200 and 500 eggs in their lifetime, so infestations can spread quickly.

What are flea bites?

Flea bites come from fleas — tiny black or brown parasitic insects. They feed on blood and prefer to live on a human or animal host at all times. They can jump up to six inches, easily accessing an unsuspecting dog, cat, or human. 

They lay 40-50 eggs per day, which can mature inside carpets and other soft fibers without a host. Flea infestations grow quickly once fleas are in your home.

What are the symptoms and signs of bed bug bites vs. flea bites? 

The bites of bed bugs and fleas are very similar, but there are a few differences that can help you tell them apart.  

Symptoms of bed bug bites

Bed bug bites inject an anesthetic into your skin to keep you from feeling the bite. It can take a day or more for you to notice the bites turn into itchy, red bumps on your skin.

The bites appear in a group or line, usually on your arms and legs. New bites are most likely to show up in the morning after sleeping.

Symptoms of flea bites

Flea bites are small, raised bumps that itch. They tend to be in clusters of three, sometimes called the "breakfast, lunch, dinner" pattern. Humans often notice flea bites on their feet and ankles, since fleas travel on the carpet or floor.

Fleas defecate as they bite and leave bacteria on the skin around bites. This makes flea bites susceptible to infection, especially if you spread the bacteria with your fingers while scratching.

The flea feces, also known as flea dirt, are why fleas spread diseases such as plague, typhus, and tapeworm.

What are the causes of bed bug bites vs. flea bites?

Flea bites and bug bites have obvious causes once you know which bug is in your home. 

Causes of bed bug bites

Bed bugs prefer to live on fabrics or other soft surfaces, like furniture. They don’t live on animals or humans. They could enter your house on suitcases or other fabric items from a previously infested space. They can't jump or fly, but they can crawl very quickly. 

You can tell if a home has bed bugs in it by looking for these signs:

  • Reddish stains on the bed caused by crushed bugs.
  • Tiny dark spots caused by bed bug excrement.
  • Bed bug eggs, eggshells, and the exoskeletons.
  • Live bed bugs.
  • A musty odor in the rooms where bed bugs live.

Causes of flea bites

It is easy for a person or pet to carry fleas inside the home. Other animals such as mice, rats, or raccoons can also introduce fleas into the home.

Once fleas lay eggs on the animals, the eggs fall off and mature in the carpet or other places in the house. Then, new fleas hatch and start biting people and pets.

You can tell if an animal has fleas by checking for fleas on their skin, beneath their fur. You might also notice black specks or "flea dirt" left behind by fleas when they bite.

How to diagnose bed bug bites vs. flea bites

Most of the time you can identify bed bug bites or flea bites without visiting a doctor

How to diagnose bed bug bites

You can recognize bed bug bites by the way the bites cluster in a zig-zag pattern. Bed bugs tend to bite exposed skin, such as your arms and legs. You may notice new bites appearing in the morning.

If you think you have bed bug bites, you should look for other signs of bed bugs in your house, such as:

  • Bed bugs in mattresses, sheets, or clothing
  • Bug exoskeletons from molting bed bugs
  • Rust-colored spots
  • Musty odor

How to diagnose flea bites

Flea bites on humans are typically on the feet and ankles. You might notice them in clusters of threes. 

If you think you have flea bites, you should check your pets’ skin for fleas and look for other signs of fleas in the house. 

Treatments of bed bugs vs. fleas

In most cases, you can treat bed bug bites and flea bites at home. 

Bed bug bite treatment

Most bed bug bites are not serious. Unlike other parasites, bed bugs don't carry diseases. You can manage the itching and discomfort from bed bugs by using over-the-counter anti-itch creams and keeping the bites clean and dry.

In some cases, the bites can cause other problems that require a doctor.  Speak to your doctor if your bites are infected or if they are getting worse instead of improving.

Once you have managed the bites, you can look into getting the bed bugs out of your house. You may need to speak with a professional exterminator.

Flea bite treatment

It's essential to clean the area around flea bites to minimize the risk of getting other infections from flea feces. You can manage the itching with over-the-counter antihistamines and anti-itch creams. 

Call your doctor if your bites get worse instead of improving or if your skin is infected. 

To get rid of fleas, you can talk to your veterinarian about treating fleas on your pets. An exterminator can suggest ways to kill any fleas in your house. Diligent vacuuming and dusting helps get rid of flea eggs in carpets and furniture.

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References
SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology Association: "Bed Bugs: Diagnosis and Treatment."

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "Flea Bites."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Bed Bugs FAQs."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Flea Borne Diseases of the United States."

Environmental Protection Agency: "Bed Bugs Appearance and Life Cycle."

Environmental Protection Agency: "Controlling Fleas and Ticks Around Your Home."

Environmental Protection Agency: "Getting Rid of Bed Bugs."

Environmental Protection Agency: "How to Find Bed Bugs."

Seattle Children's Hospital: "Bed Bug Bites."

University of Kentucky: "Flea Control and Prevention."

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