Bed Bug Bites vs. Flea Bites: What Are The 4 Differences?

By Perry Benani

It may be difficult to identify the exact type of bugs and pests you are dealing with. Some of them really look like each other. 

It may even be more difficult to tell the difference between their bites, how they look like, and their symptoms.

So I prepared this guide specifically to help you know exactly if a bed bug or flea has bitten you, and the differences between bed bug bites vs. flea bites.

You may also want to check out my detailed article on bugs that look like bed bugs.

What do bed bug bites look like?

The bites of bed bugs can be mistaken as other household insects because the bites appear like those caused by other insects like fleas, mosquitoes, and lice.

However, bed bug bites can be identified when you know the symptoms to look out for.

The most obvious signs that indicate bed bugs bites are many small, flat, or raised skin welts that will always be in a three-in-a-row or clustered arrangement: that’s because bed bugs repeatedly feed in the same spot.

Experts even define the three-row bite marks as lunch, breakfast, and dinner. The welts may become red, flare-up, and cause itching.

In the event of a scratching, the bites may also cause the welts to become swollen, develop an infection, or leave marks.

Anywhere there is skin on the body, bed bugs can bite. When sleeping, bites are more likely to occur in exposed areas, such as the arms, face, legs, shoulders, neck, and hands.

What do flea bites look like?

A discolored, small bump appears after a flea bites you. An uncolored ring may be visible around the bite. Flea bites can develop in a straight line or an array of several bites.

Flea bites mostly happen on your leg area, specifically your calves, ankles, and feet; they barely appear above the knee if you are not spending a lot of time lying down or sitting.

flea bites

The 4 Main Differences Between Bed Bug and Flea Bites

As with fleas, bed bugs take blood and release saliva into the bloodstream. Bed bug bites appear like flea bites. 

Bed bug bites often display a zigzag pattern or distinct line. They are active during the night and bite your exposed skin while sleeping, such as your hands, face, feet, arms, and legs.

The bites of fleas are a bit different from bites of other insects. After a flea bite, there is a small colored bump usually forms. 

A ring without color may appear in the vicinity of the bite. A bite from a flea doesn’t expand to the same extent as mosquito bites.

Flea bites can also be distinct due to their bite shapes, form, and location. The bites of a flea usually appear in straight lines or a cluster. Fleas are most likely to bite the legs, specifically your calves, feet, and ankles.

It’s also crucial to check your pets. If they are scratching more frequently than usual, it’s a good idea to look for signs of fleas. If fleas plague your pet and there are scratches on your legs, there’s a good chance you’ve got flea bites.

So here are the main differences between bed bug bites vs. flea bites:

  1. Location: bed bugs generally bite the upper body parts, whereas fleas generally bite your lower body 
  2. Bed bug bites are bigger than flea bites, and flea bites tend to be more than bed bug bites
  3. Bed bug bites are grouped in a zigzag pattern or line, whereas flea bites form an irregular pattern though they are grouped too
  4. The color of fleas are in bright red, but bed bug bites are not as bright as that of fleas though they are still in red color

Are There Any Similarities?

Both bed bugs and fleas are fed with mainly human blood. If you observe grouped small reddish dots and spots on your skin, they could be either bedbug bites or flea bites. It may not be easy to differentiate them. 

The bites from fleas and bed bugs both cause itching. The saliva that bed bugs and fleas inject into the bloodstream occurs during feeding sessions. 

The insects’ saliva contains anticoagulants to prevent blood clots and antihistamines from preventing immediate itching.

bed bug bites

The easiest way to differentiate is where you observe bites: if they are in your upper body, bites are most likely due to bed bugs; if bites are mainly located in your lower body, they are likely flea bites.

In any case, please note that there are many other insects like mosquitoes, ticks, etc., that may bite you. So it is important to know what bite you to treat them correctly.

What are the signs and symptoms of bed bug bites vs. flea bites?

The signs and symptoms of flea bites can vary. If the insect has a disease or an allergic reaction develops, it could be more intense. Common symptoms are itchy and red skin and a discolored band around the bite.

More severe symptoms could be a result of a reaction to an allergen (hives or rashes, swelling, and shortness of breath) and infection of disease is carried by a flea (fever, headache, throbbing skin rashes, body pains, abdominal pain, nausea, dizziness, weight loss, and weakness could be associated with different illnesses).

If you have an allergic reaction to fleas, you could develop hives or an itch. The area affected may grow larger and form blisters. If a blister forms and breaks, it may result in an infection. If you scratch at the area and tear it open, your skin could develop a secondary infection due to the bites.

Fleas can infest the skin. For instance, burrowing fleas can trigger an infestation known as Tungiasis. It is most often seen on the feet and the toes. The subtropical or tropical flea will dig beneath the skin to feed. The flea dies after two weeks. However, it can cause a serious skin infection following.

bed bug bites vs. flea bites

When it comes to bed bug bite symptoms, many people don’t feel the bite or experience any symptoms aside from the dots that indicate the area where the bug was bit and a small but noticeable irritation and inflammation. 

Other people are considered more sensitive to bites and show more serious symptoms.

In the majority of cases, symptoms manifest shortly after following the bite. However, they may develop or worsen throughout the next few days too. If there is no further irritation, the symptoms generally disappear within a week or less.

The majority of bites from bed bugs will cause some discomfort, which is usually itching and swelling. Other indications and symptoms associated with bed bugs are:

  • A burning, painful sensation
  • An itchy and erected bump
  • A red and itchy bump with a dark center and smaller swollen areas around it, red and tiny bumps, or tiny red welts in a zigzag design or a line, red and ting bumps, surrounded by hives or blisters
  • Papal eruptions or patches of skin that have flat or raised patches that might be affected by inflammation
  • Tiny blood spots from bites are often dried out or stain sheets or bedding
  • Dried reddish-brown stains on fabrics as a result of bed bug droppings
  • The nymphs shed transparent or white skins once they age

Although it is not common, however, some individuals suffer severe reactions and signs due to the bites of bed bugs. Signs that indicate medical care are difficulties in breathing, blisters, febrile, being sick or feeling nauseated, swollen tongue, and irregular heartbeat.

What are the reasons for bed bug bites vs. flea bites?

Bed bugs prefer living on soft surfaces (like furniture or fabrics). They don’t reside in humans or animals. 

They can enter your home through suitcases or other textile objects used in a previously infected area. They can’t fly or jump; however, they can move extremely quickly.

You can determine the presence of bed bugs inside it by observing these indicators:

  • Bed stains that are reddish result from the crushing of bugs.
  • Small dark patches caused bed excreta of bugs.
  • Eggshells, bed bug eggs, and exoskeletons.
  • Living bed bug.
  • The smell of musty is prevalent in bedrooms where bed bugs are apex.

When it comes to the causes of bites from fleas, it’s easy for pets to carry fleas around the house. Other animals like rodents, mice, or raccoons could bring fleas into your home.

why bed bugs and fleas bite

After fleas lay eggs on animals, the eggs fall off and grow on the carpet or in other areas in the home. After that, the fleas hatch again and begin biting humans and pets.

It is easy to determine if a pet has fleas by examining for the presence of fleas on their skin or underneath their fur. It is also possible to spot black specks of hair or “flea dirt” left by the fleas that bite.

What Are the Risks of Bed Bug Bites vs. Flea Bites

Bed bugs don’t directly cause human illness. In most instances where people get sick after bed bug bites, the root reason was caused by blood loss, allergies, or an infection.

However, just because bed bug bites do not directly cause illness to those suffering from them doesn’t mean they aren’t a threat to your health. 

Medical research has documented numerous negative effects and other ailments from fighting bed bugs. 

In the end, eliminating bed bugs can help you avoid discomfort now and future health issues.

Even without transmission of disease, Bed bugs have been well-known to harm people’s health in ways that could be grave. Here’s a quick list of the dangers bed bugs can pose:

  • A series of bites over time could cause significant blood loss and the possibility of anemia.
  • Allergies to their droppings and remains may trigger asthmatic attacks in susceptible people.
  • Allergies to bites resulting from bed bug saliva may trigger hives burning, itching, and rashes.
  • Infected bites can spread to other areas, which can cause further problems.
  • Scarring is a possibility and can last for months.
  • Certain patients may experience serious systemic reactions, such as trouble breathing, severe infection, and anaphylaxis.

How To Treat Flea Bites

How can you take care of flea bites? Most of the time, the bites of a flea are simple for you to manage at home with no medical treatment, so long as you don’t suffer the reaction of an allergy.

While bites can be painful and itchy, it is suggested to avoid scratching them.

Normally bites should be gone after a couple of months; the less you scratch, the quicker they will go away. Don’t scratch.

how to treat bed bug and flea bites

Here are a few home-based treatment options for bites of fleas:

  • Cleanse your bites with soap, water, and detergent to keep them clean and lower the infection chances.
  • You can also use an over-the-counter antihistamine such as Zyrtec or Claritin to reduce itching and stop your hands from scratching.
  • Anti-itch creams such as hydrocortisone and calamine lotion are also effective in relieving itching. Sarna lotion also helps relieve itching. It is available in the form of a prescription and is placed in small quantities directly onto the bite spot at least four times every day or as often as the directions suggest.
  • Do not shower; too hot as hot water can cause itching skin. The decrease in body temperature when you leave the shower could stimulate the production of histamine, which can increase the severity of itching.s
  • Get help from an experienced medical professional if itching does not disappear with non-prescription products since they may prescribe stronger topical steroids in the event of need.
  • If you notice swelling, open sores, or discharge from the bite area, it could indicate an infection, and you need to seek a doctor for treatment.

How To Treat Bed Bug Bites

A dermatologist should be consulted to treat if there are blisters, many bites and skin infections (bites are tender or produce an oozing discharge, like pus), an allergic reaction to the skin (skin that is swollen and red, or itchy hives).

Your dermatologist can prescribe the following treatments to treat the bites of bed bugs:

  • Itching. A prescription antihistamine pill or liquid may help. Also, you can apply a corticosteroid cream to the bites. Your dermatologist will advise you which one is right for you.
  • Allergy reaction. Some people may require an injection of an antihistamine or corticosteroid and epinephrine (adrenaline) in the event of a serious allergic reaction.
  • The infection. An infection may require an antibiotic. If the condition is not severe, the dermatologist might suggest an antiseptic medication that you can purchase without needing a prescription. Your dermatologist will advise you on which product to use. Your dermatologist might also suggest an antiseptic for preventing infection on the skin.

If you don’t indicate an illness or serious reaction, you can treat the bites at home.

You can cleanse the bites with water and soap. This will help to prevent skin infections and will reduce itching.  

If bites cause itching, apply a cream of corticosteroid to those biting. You can get the weak version of this medication without a prescription from your local pharmacy. For stronger corticosteroids, you need a prescription.

Bed bug bites typically heal and fade within one or two weeks.

I hope this writing helps you differentiate between bed bugs and flea bites and gives you some direction on risks and possible treatment.

All the best, Perry Benani.