Flea Bites vs. Bed Bug Bites

Telling the difference between flea and bed bug bites can be challenging. Mysterious red bumps generally grab attention and cause numerous thoughts to race through your mind. Knowing the difference between the two has some very important implications.

Fleas and beg bugs can be found anywhere and those who travel frequently are likely to get bitten at some point. Both insects cause red bumps to appear on the skin after a bite. The legs are arms are most affected, but bites can occur anywhere on the body. This article will provide a comprehensive guide for differentiating flea bites and bed bug bites.

1. Fleas vs. Bed Bugs






Wingless, oval shaped, 2 to 8mm long

Deep brown color

Disproportionately small head

Six legs

Large hind legs, can jump long distances



Can spread


Bed Bugs

Front wings tiny, no hind wings

Light brown or reddish-brown

Oval and flat, 4-5 mm long, 1-3 mm wide

Segmented abdomens with microscopic hairs Banded appearance.

Mattress seams and piping

Bed frame


Do not spread disease

2. Symptoms

The itching and red bumps generally clear up in a few weeks. If you continue to experience itching, bumps or other symptoms or worsen in any way, see your doctor. If no bed bugs are found after searching your bed or you cannot determine the source of the bites, see your doctor to make sure the diagnosis is correct. Many other insect bites and skin conditions can cause similar symptoms and findings.

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Flea Bites

Bites are intensely itchy

A red raised and swollen bump develops in less than 1 hour after the bite.

The wheal (bump) can turn into a blister or open sore in a day

Legs and feet are affected most often

Scratching commonly causes secondary infection

Hypersensitivity to the bites can develop in some people

Bed Bugs


Bites cause red bumps, often with a central dark red spot


Bites are in a rough line or in a cluster

Commonly on the face, neck, arms and hands

Some people do not react or develop bumps

Others develop severe itching, blisters orhives

3. Treatments

Many OTC drugs can help relieve the bites; seek medical help in serious conditions. All home remedies can be applied in both the conditions.

Flea Bites

Wash the bite area with warm soapy water. Apply an antiseptic cream and then use an icepack to decrease swelling and inflammation. Avoid excessively hot water as this can stimulate a more intense skin reaction. Repeat ice for 10 minutes at time and reapply several times over the next 1-2 hours after being bitten.

OTC hydrocortisone cream, calamine and benadryl are all effective at decreasing the itching and inflammation associated with the flea bites. Avoid placing these creams on any open areas of skin or wounds.

Consult your pharmacist or doctor about anti-itch medications. Antihistamines such as benadryl and OTC loratadine are effective at reducing the itching sensation and blunting the body's allergic response to bites. Hydroxyzine is a prescription anti-histamine and is highly effective. These medications cause drowsiness so use caution, avoid driving while taking and don't drink alcohol if using these medications.

Other home remedies:

  • Apply aloe vera to your bites. You can either use aloe vera gel or by using a natural aloe vera leaf.
  • Wash the bites with black tea, green tea or tea made from lavender flowers.
  • Resist the urge to scratch. Excessive scratching damages the skin and can result in secondary infection. If intense redness, warmth, increasing pain or a red streak develops from a bite, seek medical attention.

Bed Bugs


Look closely at the bite and then search bedding and clothing for the bed bugs to confirm the cause.

OTC drugs: Options include: hydrocortisone cream, benadryl cream and calamine. Follow the package directions to get the most effective relief of symptoms. Topical pramoxine works to numb the area and can help alleviate symptoms. Oral antihistamine medications such as benadryl or loratadine are available over the counter and provide effective itch relief. If painful, try OTC medications such as ibuprofen or Tylenol.

Other home remedies:

  • Mix a small amount of water and baking soda into a paste. Apply the paste to the bites and allow it to dry for one hour before washing off with warm water.
  • Saturate a cotton ball with lemon juice, witch hazel or St. John's Wart. Dab the bitten areas with the cotton ball and this will help dry out the itchy bumps.
  • Aloe is an effective natural skin remedy and has both anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Cover the affected area liberally as needed.
  • Warm baths provide effective symptom relief and try mixing 1/2 cup of peppermint oil, powdered oatmeal, baking soda or Alka-Seltzer to the bath water.

4. Prevention Measures

Flea Bites

  • Fleas hate garlic and eating garlic rich foods seems to deter fleas from biting.
  • Slice some lemon or lime and boil with water. Let this cool overnight and then put the citrus-infused water into a mister or spray bottle. Spray ankles and legs to keep the fleas away.
  • Another option is to use essential oils such as eucalyptus, cedar wood or lavender oil. Either dab on the skin or place a few drops in a spray bottle and apply to arms, legs and ankles.
  • You can make a natural flea trap by mixing 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar with water. Set the glass where fleas seem to be the most problematic. Fleas are attracted to the odor and become trapped in the liquid and drown.

Bed Bugs


  • Wrap your mattress in plastic to keep the bed bugs out. Tape any holes.
  • Get rid of clutter around the bed and bedroom and eliminate any place for the bed bugs to hide.
  • Always inspect luggage and clothing when you return from a trip.
  • Wash all clothing after travel and all new clothing before wearing.
  • Closely inspect all second hand items before you bring them home.
  • Get rid of infested box springs and mattresses. Wash all clothing and bedding in hot water. Freezing clothing in bags for at least 4 days is an alternative. Vacuum all cracks and crevices and any other potential hiding place. Make sure to get rid of the vacuum bag immediately after finishing.
  • Food-grade diatomaceous earth sprinkled where bed bugs were found keeps them from returning.
  • Consider trying pesticides if all else fails, but be aware the beg bugs are developing resistance to some types of chemicals. Pesticides have their own health risks and be sure to research before you spread chemicals around your bedroom and mattress.
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