Fleas are wingless parasitic insects that feed on the blood of mammals and birds.
Common flea species that infect humans include:
- Cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis)
- The most commonly found flea species in the U.S.
- Despite the name, it also infects dogs and humans
- Dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis)
- Human flea (Pulex irritans)
What Do Flea Bites Look Like?
Signs you may have flea bites include symptoms that start immediately after being bitten, such as:
- Small red spots/dots
- Often occur in groups of two or three or in clusters
- May have redness around them or a halo
- Commonly occur on the feet, ankles, and lower legs (though fleas can bite anywhere)
- Redness can last from hours to several days
- Rash (characterized by small clusters of bumps)
- Swelling around the bite
Allergic Reactions to Flea Bites
Some people can have allergic reactions to flea bites. Allergic reactions to flea bites can be a medical emergency. Call 911 or get to a hospital’s emergency department immediately if you experience symptoms of allergic reactions to flea bites such as:
How Are Flea Bites Diagnosed?
- Flea bites are diagnosed with a patient history including asking about known flea infestation, and a skin examination.
- Fleas are very small and adults can jump very high and far, but if you are able to catch one it can be helpful to bring it to the doctor for identification.
- Adult fleas are wingless, oval, about 1/12 to 1/8 inch long, flat from side to side, and dark reddish-brown, with six long legs. Flea larvae are pale white and measure about three mm in length, resembling tiny worms.
How Do You Treat Flea Bites?
Treatment for flea bites involves treating the main symptom, which is itching. Avoid scratching flea bites which can create an open wound. Bacteria under the fingernails may enter the broken skin, resulting in infection.
Treatment for itching due to flea bites includes:
- Wash the area first to lessen the chances for infection
- Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-itch creams, lotions, or ointments
- Oral antihistamines for more severe itching
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- For allergic reactions, see a doctor
- For secondary infection (if the bites start draining pus), see a doctor
- Antibiotics may be needed
Home remedies to relieve itching and other symptoms of flea bites include:
- For itching
- Witch hazel
- White vinegar (dilute 1 part vinegar with 1 part water)
- Tea tree oil
- For redness, swelling, and inflammation
- Aloe vera
- Ice packs (or frozen vegetables) wrapped in a towel and applied to the skin
- Used teabags – cool in freezer and apply to the bite
- Rubbing alcohol can be used to dry the bites
What Are Complications of Flea Bites?
Complications of flea bites include infection and disease.
- Fleas can transmit diseases, such as:
- Secondary infection can occur from scratching the bites
- Vigorous scratching of the rash may cause an open wound
- Bacteria and other debris under the fingernails may enter broken skin, resulting in infection
How Do You Prevent Flea Bites?
Most of the time, fleas get into the home via pets. The best way to prevent getting bitten is to prevent your pet from getting fleas and to keep the home free of fleas.
- Use flea prevention on your pet once a month
- Talk to your veterinarian about the right product for your dog or cat
- Mow the lawn frequently and keep the grass short
- Treat outdoor areas commonly used by your pet, such as kennels, with appropriate insecticides
- Follow label instructions and keep pets off the grass and out of the yard until the product dries or as indicated by the product label instructions
- Check your pet’s fur for fleas using a flea comb
- Clean pet bedding regularly by washing in hot water
- Keep pets away from animals known to have had fleas recently
- Keep pets out of places that are difficult to treat for fleas such as under decks or sheds
- Vacuum rugs, carpets, upholstered furniture, under beds and sofas, and behind furniture frequently, paying attention to places where pets sleep
- If you have a known infestation, throw away the vacuum cleaner bag or empty the vacuum cylinder promptly
- Dust furniture and dry clean curtains and upholstery regularly
- Persistent flea infestations may need to be treated by a pest control specialist
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