Flea Bites on Humans: Symptoms and Treatment
Fleas are wingless, blood-sucking parasites that are notorious for the irritation they cause us and our pets. Even though fleas are typically more interested in our furry friends than people, flea bites on humans are not uncommon. It's a fairly accepted fact that if you're a pet owner, you're probably going to experience a flea bite at some point in time.
Of course, people who don't own pets are not completely safe from the attentions of this small parasite either. Fleas are surprisingly hardy creatures, especially in their pupae stage, when they can survive in harsh environments for long durations without any food. It's a common horror story amongst new homeowners to be suddenly attacked by a horde of fleas. The returned presence of warm-blooded prey stimulate fleas to hatch from their protective cocoons for a meal, and all this can occur without a dog in sight.
So how can you tell whether you're the main course for this notorious little blood-sucker? Continue reading to learn about the symptoms of a flea bite, how to treat it, and more.
What Do Flea Bites on Humans Look Like?
Flea bites on human skin appear as red dots surrounded by reddish halos. There are often multiple flea bites in one area, and they do not follow an organized pattern or structure. Instead, they are scattered about randomly.
Can a Flea Be Seen by the Human Eye?
Yes, a flea can be seen by the human eye, but not without difficulty. They are reddish-brown, and usually about 1/4 inch in length. They can move about very quickly and can jump up to six feet, although they cannot fly. Usually, by the time you register that a flea is on you, it has already jumped off. If you are able to catch one, try to squish it. Since fleas have hard-bodies, they are hard to kill by squishing. If you are able to squish the bug, it may be a bed bug or something else.
Flea bites are commonly mistaken for bed bug bites, and vice versa. While sometimes challenging to determine, it is important to know the identity of your attacker. See the table below for the differences between flea bites and bed bug bites.
Flea Bites vs. Bed Bug Bites
Bites look like small clusters of red spots.
Bites look like mosquito bites. They are red, firm, and sometimes swollen.
Bites are scattered about randomly, and are usually found on the legs, ankles, or feet.
Bites often appear in linear rows, and can be found anywhere on the body.
Bites may occur at night, but are more likely to occur when in close proximity to furniture or pets.
Bites usually occur at night when you are sleeping in your bed (hence the name).
Bites start to itch immediately and will become red within an hour of being bitten.
Bites may take several days to appear, and begin to itch gradually.
Symptoms of Flea Bites on Humans
Below is a list of symptoms you can expect to see or feel after being bitten by a flea.
- Flea bites are extremely itchy and can cause great discomfort.
- The bites are typically focused around the feet and lower legs, as fleas tend to live in carpets and floorboards. It also isn't uncommon to experience flea bites on other areas of the body, particularly around your mid-section.
- If you are allergic or have a hypersensitive reaction to the flea bites, large welts may form that are painful and hot to the touch.
- Flea bites are easily infected, as scratching can introduce nasty bacteria into the open sores. Infected flea bites become painful, red, pussy, and swollen.
- Flea bites may cause hives.
How Do You Treat Flea Bites on Humans?
While there is no step-by-step method for treating flea bites on human skin, there are several things you can do to treat an area of skin that has been affected.
Also, make sure the marks on your skin are, in fact, flea bites. They can sometimes look similar to mosquito bites, heat rash, bed bug bites, or a number of other skin ailments. If you haven't actually seen any fleas jumping around your home, yet you still have what seem to be flea bites, a trip to the doctor or pharmacist may be in order.
Flea Bite Treatments
- Wash the affected area to reduce the chance of infection
- Despite the urge, do not scratch flea bites. Fleas defecate as they feed, which means that every flea bite is surrounded by nasty bacteria. Not only does scratching irritate the skin surface, but you risk introducing some of this bacteria into your skin, leading to infection.
- Wrap an ice pack around the bitten skin. This will reduce swelling and numb the skin, making it easier to avoid scratching.
- Witch hazel can help with itchiness.
- Oral antihistamine will help reduce itchiness while also lessening the chance of an allergic reaction.
- Topical antihistamines, antibacterials, and other soothing lotions (such as aloe vera) will help soothe and cleanse the skin so as to reduce redness, swelling, and the chance of infection.
- Tepid baths with an oatmeal solution, which can be found at chemists and health stores, will soothe your skin. (Note: Avoid hot showers. Hot water can make the itching worse.)
Can a Flea Bite Harm a Human?
Aside from the possibility of an infection or allergic reaction, itchiness and redness is usually the worst one can expect after being bitten by a flea. However, keep in mind that reactions tend to be worse in those with weaker immune systems, such as infants, children, and seniors.
If a flea bite develops into an allergic reaction it can be very harmful to a human. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a flea bite that constitute a medical emergency include:
Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction to a Flea Bite
- Difficulty breathing (shortness of breath or wheezing)
- Swelling of the lips of tongue
- Chest pain
Fleas are also capable of transmitting certain diseases, such as:
Diseases Transmitted by Fleas
- Plague (Yersinia pestis)
- Typhus (Rickettsia typhi)
- Flea tapeworm
How to Prevent Flea Bites on Humans
There are a few measures you can take to avoid being bitten by fleas in the first place. Follow the steps below to protect you and your family from flea bites.
- Use a lemon citrus spray, as fleas do not like the scent of citrus and will avoid anything with this smell. By applying a lemon spray around your house, the fleas should stay away (at least temporarily). You can make your own lemon spray by cutting lemons in half, boiling them in water, and letting them steep overnight. Once finished, simply pour your anti-flea concoction into a spray bottle.
- Use a diffuser and essential oils that repel fleas. Some of the best oils to repel fleas are lavender, eucalyptus, lemon, cedar wood, and peppermint.
- Wear lotion containing essential oils.
- Apply an insecticide inside and outside of your home. Since fleas can take a long time to hatch, purchase an insecticide with a growth inhibitor. (Note: Consider the health hazards of these chemicals.)
- Purchase nematodes for your yard, which are small worms that feed on fleas. Ladybugs are also notorious flea-eaters.
What Kills Fleas in the House?
When it comes to ridding your home of a flea infestation, there are both chemical and non-toxic solutions.
- Vacuuming fleas is a very effective, and non-toxic, way of eliminating fleas in your home. The fleas will jump toward the vibrations of the vacuum, and once sucked inside, the rotation will kill them.
- Apply a mixture of salt and baking soda to flea-infested areas. This will dehydrate and kill the fleas.
- Use a non-toxic flea spray to kill fleas in your home.
- Chemically sprays for inside and outside of your home
- Fog your home using a flea fogger or flea bomb
- Contract an exterminator
Four Stages of the Flea Life Cycle
When it comes to removing fleas from your home, having some knowledge about the flea lifecycle may be of some use. Homeowners often take measures to exterminate fleas from their home only to have a new generation crop up a few weeks after. The key to removing fleas from your home for good is to break the lifecycle. The best way to do this (unless you've hired an exterminator and are sure all traces of fleas are gone) is to continue your extermination method for multiple months.
An adult female flea will lay eggs after consuming blood. The eggs appear as small, white objects, smaller than a grain of sand.
Emerging larvae are blind and sensitive to light. They are about a 1/4 inch long, white, and legless. If conditions permit, they will spin a cocoon within 5 to 20 days of hatching.
The last stage before emerging as an adult flea, the pupae will wait in their sticky cocoons before emerging. They usually hatch within months of this stage, but they can stay in the pupae stage for years if need be.
Once a flea has emerged from its cocoon, it will begin feeding on a host within hours. Adult fleas are small, dark-colored, and flat-bodied when unfed, and darker and fatter after feeding.
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