bed bugs, ticks and more
Insect bites are common and can come from bed bugs, mosquitoes, ticks, spiders, and other creatures. Many bites require nothing more than home wound care, while others require medical attention.
Insect bites often cause an inflamed lump or patch on the skin that may itch or change color. With lighter skin, many insect bites cause redness. On darker skin, they can cause the skin to turn purple or dark brown.
Properly identifying the type of bug bite someone has is important to knowing how to treat it, especially if they develop systemic symptoms after the bite. These are symptoms that affect the whole body, such as B. fever.
This article describes how to recognize insect bites, including those caused by bed bugs, mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and spiders. It also explains when to seek medical help for a bite.
The human bug is a species of insect that relies solely on human blood for survival. They are flat, oval-shaped insects about 3–6 millimeters (mm) long and red or brown in color. They often live in mattresses, but can also live in pillows, bed frames, and cracks in floors and walls.
Bed bug bites usually appear on a person’s face, neck, hands, or arms. Symptoms include small, raised bumps that appear in clusters or straight lines. The bites will be itchy but not painful.
When bed bugs are in the home, it can take up to 14 days for symptoms of the bites to develop. Other signs of a bedbug population in the home include:
- tiny, poppy-like eggs in bedding or on mattresses
- unexplained rust-colored stains on bed linen
- a sweet, musty smell
Although bedbugs don’t spread disease, there is a risk that a person could develop an allergic reaction to the bites or get a secondary infection.
Treatment for bed bug bites aims to reduce itching. A doctor may recommend a topical steroid cream and oral antihistamines. If a secondary infection develops, it may require treatment with antibiotics.
The only way to completely rid the house of bed bugs is to use insecticides. These chemicals are toxic, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends contacting the landlord of the property or a professional pest control company to ensure safe removal.
Learn more about bed bug bites.
Mosquitoes are small flying insects that feed on blood. They have delicate wings, legs, and a special feeding apparatus that allows them to bite the skin. When a mosquito eats, its saliva penetrates the skin. This causes an itchy, swollen bump.
The symptoms of a mosquito bite can be different. The bite can present as follows:
- a swollen bump on the skin that appears a few minutes after the bite
- a hard, itchy red-brown bump that appears about a day after the bite
- small bubbles
- dark spots resembling bruises
People with more severe reactions to mosquito bites may experience the following symptoms:
Treatment for mosquito bites aims to relieve symptoms. People may benefit from using ice packs, topical corticosteroids, and oral antihistamines.
Some mosquitoes can transmit serious diseases. The risk of these depends on the mosquito species and the geographic region where the bite occurs. Mosquitoes can transmit:
If a person develops any symptoms in addition to the bite, such as fever, chills, headache, or vomiting, they should speak to a doctor as soon as possible.
Find out about some home remedies to relieve mosquito bite symptoms.
Ticks are arachnids with eight legs and two claws. They can be hard or soft bodied and are usually flat before feeding and become more rounded afterwards.
Tick bites are often painless and do not always cause symptoms. However, they can attach themselves to the skin and remain there for hours or days. Therefore, the easiest way to identify a tick bite is to find the tick itself when it is still on the skin.
If the tick is no longer on the skin, there may be no bite marks. Some people may experience the following:
- pain and swelling
- a burning sensation
Some ticks can also transmit diseases that can cause symptoms if a person becomes infected with them. Examples of tick-borne diseases include:
If a tick bite transmits Lyme disease, or RMSF, a person may develop a distinctive rash. With Lyme disease, the rash can resemble a bullseye with the tick bite in the center. About 70-80% of people who get Lyme disease have this rash.
In RMSF, the rash resembles dots or spots, but appearance can vary widely as the disease progresses.
Treatment for tick bites depends on whether the tick is still attached to the skin. If this is the case, people should carefully remove the tick with tweezers, grasping it as close to the skin as possible and gently pulling upwards.
Removing a tick within 24 hours of the bite can reduce the chance of disease transmission. It typically takes 36-48 hours for a tick to transmit the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
After the tick is out of the skin, dispose of it by placing it in a sealed bag or container, wrapping it securely in tape, or flushing it down a toilet. Don’t try to crush the tick between your fingers.
An uncomplicated bite requires only routine wound care. Clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water, looking for signs of infection. A person may need topical steroids or antihistamines for severe itching.
If someone develops other symptoms, they should speak to a doctor as soon as possible and mention that they recently had a tick bite.
If a person regularly visits areas with high numbers of ticks, they should take precautions to prevent bites. Cover exposed skin wherever possible and thoroughly inspect skin for ticks before re-entering the home.
Learn more about preventing Lyme disease.
Fleas are tiny insects that are up to 4mm long and reddish in color. They prefer to feed on the blood of mammals and birds, but can also bite humans. The bites they cause can appear as multiple small red bumps or blisters and can be very itchy.
If itching is severe, scratching can injure the skin, which can lead to the development of a secondary bacterial infection. This can cause swelling, warmth, or pus to ooze from the bite.
Rarely, flea bites can transmit serious diseases, including tularemia, endemic typhoid, and bubonic plague.
Treatment for flea bites focuses on reducing the itching until the bites heal. A doctor may suggest calamine lotion, steroid cream, or oral antihistamines.
Learn more about flea bites.
Spiders are carnivorous arachnids. Unlike ticks, to which they are related, spiders do not feed on the blood of animals or humans. Instead, they eat insects.
Many spider species have a venomous bite or sting that immobilizes their prey. When threatened or disturbed by a human, a spider may bite or sting him. The symptoms and severity of the bite vary greatly depending on the species of spider.
Possible symptoms of a spider bite include:
- a sharp, pinprick-like pain at the time of the bite
- small puncture marks in the skin
- red or purple discoloration at the site
- a red or purple blister
- Pain, soreness, tingling, or numbness around the bite
In North America, the two spiders with the greatest potential for damage are the black widow and the brown recluse spider.
Although the brown recluse spider’s venom is potentially very dangerous, most bites cause only minimal symptoms. Some may develop an area of pale or blue discoloration around the bite. A more serious complication is necrosis or tissue death.
Black widow venom does not cause necrosis, and often the bites do not cause severe reactions. When this happens, a person can experience severe muscle spasms and pain in the chest, lower back, and abdomen. Other symptoms are:
Severe symptoms typically appear up to 6 hours after the bites and can last up to 2 days.
Most spider bites do not cause significant symptoms. Often people can relieve pain at home by applying ice to the area and taking acetaminophen. In some cases, people may need a tetanus shot if they haven’t had one recently.
However, if someone is concerned that the spider that bit them might be dangerous, they might want to see a doctor.
The biggest challenge in treating spider bites is identifying the type of spider that caused it. When a person sees the spider, he should try to remember the shape, size, color, and any markings on the spider’s body. This can help a doctor diagnose and treat the bite.
People should seek immediate medical attention if they develop severe or systemic symptoms after a spider bite.
Learn more about detecting and treating spider bites.
Most insect bites are minor and do not require medical attention. However, it is important to seek help immediately if the following occurs:
These symptoms can indicate anaphylaxis, which is a serious allergic reaction that can be life-threatening.
Other symptoms a person should talk to a doctor about include:
- fever or chills
- a bullseye rash or a rash that gets bigger and bigger
- a headache
- swelling and pus
- persistent fatigue
Insect bites can appear different depending on the creature that caused them, as well as a person’s skin tone, the location of the bite, and other factors.
Bugs and fleas typically cause small, itchy bumps on the skin, while tick bites sometimes cause no symptoms at all. Mosquito bites tend to look swollen and raised when they first appear, while spider bites can have noticeable puncture marks.
However, it’s always best to consult a doctor for a diagnosis if a person has concerns about a bite, as they can vary in appearance and severity.