What You Need to Know About Flea Bites

Published September 24th, 2021 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Erik Rivera

Fleas are a common pest found in many homes. These pesky little insects can give you flea bites, which can be painful and itchy. In this article, we will answer the following questions: What are flea bites? Where do they come from? How do you treat them? What should I look for? How do I prevent fleas from biting me again?

What are fleas found?

Fleas are parasites that live on the blood of hosts, also called hematophagy, usually of small mammals and birds. They can be found all over the world in both temperate and tropical climates. Fleas go through four different life stages: egg, larva, pupa, adult. This means one female flea can produce over 24,000 eggs in her lifetime. Fleas also have a high rate of reproduction and their larvae and pupae do not need to feed in order to develop into adults. This means that the flea population is very fast growing and it takes little time for an infestation to take hold. They commonly become pests in households due to pets getting fleas and exposing their owners.

What are flea bites?

When you get bit by a flea there are two different ways this will happen: they either jump onto your skin or burrow under it. The bite itself often feels like you’ve been poked with something sharp because the mouthparts of the flea inject enzymes into your body while drinking blood from the wound site which causes irritation on top of any redness or swelling that may occur around where they nibbled on you.

If you have pets, they might be bringing fleas into your home. You can recognize them by their very small size and how flat their bodies are. They often appear brown or black in color but some species may take on a reddish tint to blend into the fur of mammals that live where they are found. It is also possible for an infestation to remain dormant until conditions are right before it becomes active again which means there may not even be any visible signs of fleas living in your house either at first glance or after an initial inspection with a flashlight. The only way to find out if you have flea activity going on inside your domicile would need to involve finding adult fleas still wearing entire skins from molting as well as finding evidence of their larvae or pupae. These pesky parasites are responsible for more than just annoying itchy spots on your skin, they're also known carriers of disease. 

What are the symptoms of a flea bite?

The symptoms of a flea bite are a collection of small red bumps or blisters. They can be itchy, and there may also be swelling around the area where the bite occurred. Other possible signs include an unusual amount of scratching in that specific area, especially at night when you're trying to sleep. Some people describe this as intense itching that is worse than mosquito bites. In rare cases, some individuals might experience flu-like symptoms after being bitten by fleas such as fever and body aches if their immune system reacts badly to the saliva from these parasites. The two most common ways for the bites to appear are in clusters or lines of two bites. 

How do you treat a flea bite?

Humans

There are a few things you can do to treat flea bites. First, take an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen and apply ice packs or cold compresses to any swelling that appears around the bite area for no more than 20 minutes at a time (repeat every hour). Second, make sure your tetanus shot is up to date. Third, wash all bedding in hot water and vacuum carpets thoroughly before adding new bedding down again.

The best way to treat a flea bite is by keeping the area clean and dry while applying calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream if there is any swelling, redness, itching, or irritation. If you develop an infection caused by scratching at the site of the bite it will need treatment with antibiotics in order for your skin not to get worse because even though fleas can cause pain when they bite it's what happens afterward that people tend to worry about most where symptoms could last up to three weeks depending on how much damage was done from scratching. There are also drugs that can be taken orally such as doxycycline which prevents secondary infections during recovery after being bitten by a flea but it is recommended to take this with plenty of water and food.

Finally, call your doctor if there's ever severe pain, excessive redness, or pus draining from the site of the bite after 24 hours have passed since being bitten by the flea. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics depending on how bad it looks like an infection might be starting.

Pets

In order to get rid of fleas you have got to treat your pet and the surrounding environment in which they live, sleep, and play. If your pet is wearing a flea collar it will only kill the adult fleas that are on them at the time of application which means it will not affect the eggs or larvae so you have to treat them with a topical treatment that can also be used on their bedding. In the home, you should vacuum carpets and rugs, wash bedding in hot water with no detergent or fabric softener, and put all pet bedding through a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes, and spray all baseboards with a chemical treatment that is labeled to kill fleas.

If you have pets that go outside frequently they should be treated as well so they do not bring more into the house causing an infestation of another kind. To treat fleas on your pets at home you can use the following:

  • flea comb
  • flea collar
  • flea medicines to be taken orally by your pet 
  • topical ointments for flea 

Any combination of these along with bathing your pet and washing their bedding or any surface they frequent regularly. There is no one-size-fits-all solution but increasingly holistic vets may use natural remedies such as essential oils derived from plants like lavender oil which helps repel pests without harming them by using whatever works best for both you and your pet. Also, there are topical flea medications available that do not require a prescription and can be applied directly between the pet's shoulder blades twice per month to prevent fleas. You should consult your veterinarian before making this or any other treatment decision regarding your dog's health since different breeds of dogs have different sensitivities to certain chemicals. 

Do flea bites carry other risks?

The biggest risk posed by fleas is actually not from getting bit but rather if they happen to drop off your pet and onto another animal or human once they are finished feeding on them. If this happens, it can pass various diseases onto its new host which could lead to serious health complications for anyone that may be allergic to their saliva as well as those who have compromised immune systems due to other conditions like cancer or HIV/AIDS. Some examples of these illnesses include murine typhus, bubonic plague, cat scratch fever also known as bartonellosis, rickettsialpox, and tularemia.

In extreme cases, they also cause anemia in their hosts by taking so much blood that there is not enough left for all bodily functions which can cause fatigue but also weakness or even death if they continue this pattern over time without being stopped somehow. If you suspect your pet has been infected with parasites bring them to your local veterinarian.

What do flea bites look like compared to other bug bites?

The appearance of a flea bite will vary depending on how sensitive the person is to flea saliva. A small red bump will form within minutes or up to an hour after being bitten by a flea. This will be very itchy and you may notice swelling at the site of the bite. The bump is actually an allergic reaction to the flea's saliva and will be slightly larger than a mosquito bite. Not everyone is allergic to flea bites because there are people that can be bit hundreds of times and not react at all which means you need to watch for other signs of fleas.

When it comes to what a flea bite looks like on humans compared to other insect bites it is very similar to how mosquitoes and other bug bites look. They are usually small welts that itch, swell a bit, turn red, and sometimes have a white ring around the site of the bite. A flea will always leave its feces around where it had been feeding which means you should take a closer look at your pet's bedding to see if there are tiny black specs that resemble pepper which means flea droppings. If your pet is scratching excessively it may be an indication of fleas even if you haven't seen any yet because they can cause intense irritation to the point of infection.

How do you prevent fleas?

You can never be too careful when it comes to preventing fleas. Even if you don't have pets, your neighbors might and that puts you at risk. The best thing you can do is to be proactive and make sure your home and yard are flea free:

  • Wash all of your bedding and vacuum the carpets often
  • Keep all pets on a flea preventative medication year-round
  • Wash any pet bedding (wash it in hot water)
  • Avoid feeding any wild animals that might be living near you or in your yard
  • Check to make sure there aren't any rodents in your area because fleas carry a number of diseases and could jump from a rodent to you
  • Never go barefoot outside, even if you've gone outside for just a minute
  • Wear long pants and socks when walking through tall grass or weeds (these are prime breeding areas for fleas and they usually attach onto your lower legs)
  • Don't leave your pet's food or water outside because this is another area where flea eggs can hatch 
  • When you're outside, make sure your shoes are clean (this keeps fleas from getting into your home)
  • Don't leave your garbage outside and make sure to securely close any trash cans
  • Keep your pets inside as much as possible so they don't pick up fleas from other animals
  • Make sure your home is well ventilated and has good air circulation (this will help keep the flea population down)
  • If you do see any fleas, make sure to take care of them immediately (it's best if you call a professional because it's a lot easier to treat the problem when you're aware of how bad it is)
  • If your pet has fleas, make sure to treat them right away (you can also use flea bombs)
  • Clean your home thoroughly, especially areas that are high traffic (such as your carpets, under furniture, and in basements)
  • Wash your pets regularly (a flea bath will kill any fleas on them and prevent further flea infestations)
  • Vacuum your home at least once a week (this will help get rid of any fleas that are already in your home)
  • Treat your yard so it doesn't attract more fleas (this involves using natural, organic pesticides that are pet and child safe)
  • Regularly check your yard for rodent holes (you should fill them in)
  • If you do get a flea bite, wash it with soap and water (you can also try some over-the-counter remedies)

These are some of the most common preventative measures to avoid fleas in your home. Should you still have fleas, we recommend hiring a specialist to remove them.

Summary

Flea bites can be a problem for both pets and their owners and are usually brought into the home by pets. Fleas are found all over the world and can quickly turn into an infestation. When they bite, they often leave a collection of red bumps or blisters which can be treated with topical lotions, like calamine lotion, to soothe itching in humans. Your pets also have a number of products to treat and prevent fleas. It is best to remove an infestation as soon as you see it as fleas have been known to carry diseases from one host to the next, including the Black Death. Flea bites are similar to mosquito bites in that they are lumps that turn red and itch but there are ways to ensure it is a flea bite, such as looking for an infestation. The best way to get rid of fleas is prevention, but should you have an infestation, wash your pet, preferably with a flea solution, and wash all of the pet's bedding or upholstery that they sleep on in hot water for at least 30 minutes. Should you find yourself with an infestation still, we recommend calling an expert to remove them. 

References and Sources:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541118/

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001329.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/fleas/avoid/on_people.html

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