What Do Flea Bites Look Like?

Fleas are tiny, wingless parasites that attack both humans and animals. They are parasitic and feed off the blood of their host. Mostly, they are harmless, though some species can transmit deadly diseases.

Flea bite marks usually appear within the first hour of the bite and can easily be mistaken for mosquito bites. Commonly, they cause itching, rashes, and swollen skin. Most often, the bite marks will disappear without treatment. However, sometimes an infection or allergic reaction might occur. Read on if you want to find out what do flea bites look like and how to treat them.

Fleas 101

Fleas are tiny insects from the order of Siphonaptera. They can’t fly and they lead parasitic lives, feeding off the blood of their hosts. The hosts include dogs, cats, other mammals, birds, and humans. Fully grown, they measure up to 3mm in size. Despite their minute size, fleas are fantastic jumpers as they can cover a distance of about 50 times their size in a single bound.

Fleas feed by piercing their host’s skin and sucking their blood. Flea larvae resemble worms and they feed by chewing organic waste. Among the over 2,500 known species, the majority of them specialize in one type of hosts and very few species are able to feed off a variety of hosts.

Though mostly harmless to humans, some flea species can transmit deadly diseases, such as bubonic plague, typhus, bartonellosis, flea tapeworm, and others.

What Do Flea Bites Look Like?

They commonly appear as little red bumps. They can also have a red circle (or halo) around the center. It is not uncommon to see them grouped in clusters of three or four, or in a straight line. If a bitten person is allergic, they may develop rashes, hives, or other allergic reactions.

In humans, flea bites most commonly occur on feet, ankles, and the lower parts of the legs. These are the most vulnerable parts, due to their proximity to the ground. That said, flea bites can occur anywhere else on the body. Other common places include the head (portions covered with hair). In domestic animals, they can be found all over their bodies.

Apart from itching, the common symptoms of flea bites include hives, swollen skin around the bite, haloed red spots, and rashes.

Why Do They Itch?

When it lands on your skin and starts to feed, the flea produces saliva which acts as an anticoagulant, preventing your blood from clotting and closing the wound. This allows the flea to take its time and drink as much blood as it needs.

After the meal, the flea leaves some traces of saliva around the bite mark. Your body identifies the remaining saliva as a foreign substance and warns your immune system. In turn, the alarmed immune system will ramp up the production of histamine.

The release of extra histamine will cause the bite to turn red and start itching. If you fail to resist the urge and begin to scratch the bite, you might make the bumps bleed and risk a secondary infection. Common symptoms of infection include fever, redness, swollen lymph nodes, pain, and red streaks.

Mosquito, Bed Bug, or Flea Bites?

Mosquitoes feed in a similar fashion and also use saliva as an anticoagulant. Their bites leave itchy red bumps, as well. However, the main difference between mosquito and flea bites is that flea bite marks don’t expand when you scratch them. Also, flea bite marks tend to be slightly smaller in diameter.

Bites from bed bugs also look very similar to mosquito and flea bites. They appear as firm red bumps on your skin. They are similar in size, as well. However, they tend to appear in straight lines, while flea bites are more often grouped in little clusters. Bed bug bites can appear literally anywhere on the body, while flea bites are most often found on ankles and feet.

Another major distinction is that bed bug bite marks may appear several days after the bite and become itchier as the days pass. On the other hand, flea bites start to itch right away and the marks appear within 60 minutes.

Allergic Reactions

The human body reacts to the bites of mosquitoes, bed bugs, fleas, and all other insects. However, due to being frequently exposed to mosquito bites, most people develop an immunity to their bites rather quickly.

On the other hand, flea and bed bug bites are less common, so a portion of the population might experience an allergic reaction. This type of reaction occurs when the body reacts too harshly to flea saliva and starts producing far more histamine than it actually needs. Apart from humans, some animals can also experience allergic reactions to flea bites.

The common symptoms of an allergic reaction to flea bites include shortness of breath, dizziness, swollen tongue and/or lips, chest pain, wheezing, and nausea. It is recommended to contact your doctor as soon as you notice the symptoms.

How do You Get Fleas?

The most common way of getting fleas is through pets, usually through dogs and cats (cat flea, also known as Ctenocephalides felis, is the most common flea species in the United States). You can easily tell when your pets have fleas, as they start scratching and licking the affected areas of their skin more often than usual. However, fleas can infest homes without pets, too.

You can also get fleas from outside animals. Fleas can live in the grass in your or your neighbor’s backyard, as well. It is not uncommon for kids to pick up fleas in kindergarten or school and bring them home.

How to Treat Flea Bites?

Similar to a regular mosquito bite, a flea bite will typically go away on its own. If you want to, you can buy over-the-counter soothing creams and lotions. First wash the bitten areas to diminish the possibility of infection and then apply the cream (or lotion). If the itching doesn’t stop, you can try an oral antihistamine.

Final Thoughts

Flea bites are similar in appearance to mosquito and bed bug bites. Most commonly, they are concentrated around the feet and ankles and tend to go away on their own. However, topical creams and ointments might be applied to relieve the itch.

You shouldn’t scratch the bites to avoid the risk of secondary infections. Also, if you get an allergic reaction, you should immediately contact your doctor.

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/plague/transmission/index.html
https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Typhus.aspx
https://www.cdc.gov/bartonella/transmission/index.html
https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/dipylidium/faqs.html

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