Bedbug and mosquito bites can appear similar at first glance. That’s why it’s important to consider the small cues that can help you determine what bit you. Armed with that knowledge, you can focus your treatments on relieving itchy, irritated skin.
Bedbugs are nocturnal insects that bite people usually asleep and in bed. They can resemble other insect bites, such as mosquito bites, or skin irritations, such as eczema.
- Appearance. Bites are usually red, puffy, and pimple-like. In the center of the irritated area is often a red dot where the bedbug bit you. If you’re especially sensitive to bedbug bites, your bites may be fluid-filled.
- Itch factor. Bedbug bites are very itchy and irritating. The itching or pain is usually worse in the morning and gets better as the day progresses.
- Location. Bedbug bites usually appear on areas of exposed skin that comes in contact with the bed. These include the arms, face, and neck. However, they can also burrow under clothing.
- Number. Bedbug bites often follow in a straight line, in groups of three or more.
Bedbug bites can become infected. Signs that a bedbug lesion is infected include:
- nearby lymph node swelling
Mosquitoes are small, flying insects with six legs. Only the females of the species bite. Mosquitoes thrive near water. If you’ve been outdoors and near a pond, lake, marsh, or pool, this increases the likelihood your bite is from a mosquito.
- Appearance. Mosquito bites are small, red, and raised bites. They can vary in size based on a person’s natural reaction to the mosquito’s saliva.
- Itch factor. Mosquito bites are itchy, and people can have varying degrees of reactions to them. Some people may be especially sensitive, and can even have blistering reactions.
- Location. Mosquitos can bite through clothing, while bedbugs need an exposed skin to feed.
- Number. A person may have just one or multiple mosquito bites. If they do have multiple, the pattern is usually random and not in a line.
Although rare, it’s possible that a person can experience an anaphylactic reaction to a mosquito bite. This is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that causes hives, throat swelling, and difficulty breathing.
If you or someone else may be experiencing anaphylaxis, seek emergency medical attention. Call 911 or go to an emergency room.
A mosquito has to be on the skin for at least six seconds to bite you. The bites may be seemingly instantly itchy and visible. They will usually get better after one or two days.
Bedbug bites don’t always cause skin reactions. If they do, the reactions can be delayed by hours or days. This makes bedbugs harder to treat because a person may not know they’ve been around them until several days later.
See below for some pictures of bedbug and mosquito bites.
Bedbugs and mosquitoes aren’t the only insects that can create similar bites. Here are some other common bug bites and how to tell the difference.
Kissing bugs are insects that can be infested with a parasite that causes a condition known as Chagas disease. These bugs commonly bite a person around their mouth or eyes. They’ll usually bite a person several times in the same area. The bites may be small, red, and round.
Kissing bug bites that cause Chagas disease can be serious as the disease can cause heart and intestinal problems.
Spider bites can take on different appearances and symptoms based on the spider that bit you. Usually, a spider’s fangs aren’t strong enough to break through human skin. The ones that do — such as a brown recluse or black widow spider — can cause severe symptoms.
Signs a person may have been bitten by a spider include:
- red welt
- pain and muscle cramping
- problems breathing
Serious spider bites can lead to illness and infection. You should seek immediate medical attention if you think you were bitten by a brown recluse or black widow spider.
Fire ants are insects that can sting and cause painful, itchy bites. These bites usually occur on the legs or feet after stepping in a fire ant mound when ants come out and bite.
Symptoms of fire ant bites include:
- burning sensation almost immediately after the bite
- itching and raised welt-like areas on the skin
- small, fluid-filled blisters that form about a day after the bites occur
Fire ant bites may cause symptoms up to a week. The bites can be extremely itchy.
Keeping a bite or bites clean and dry can help them heal. While it’s tempting, you shouldn’t itch or scratch. This increases the risk of infection and only irritates the skin more.
You don’t typically need to treat mosquito bites. Ones that are especially itchy may be soothed by applying a topical antihistamine cream. Applying a cloth-covered ice pack and keeping the affected area clean with soap and water can help.
You can treat most bedbug bites without a doctor’s prescription. Treatments include:
- applying a cold compress
- applying a topical anti-itch or steroid cream to the affected areas
- taking an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl
Treating bedbug bites also involves getting rid of the bugs from your home, if you think you were bitten at home. Bedbugs can live for up to a year between feedings. As a result, it’s important to call a professional exterminator who can get rid of bedbugs. This should be followed by cleaning a bedroom free of papers and covering up crevices that bedbugs can live in.
You should see a doctor if you think you have a bug bite that’s become infected. This includes redness, streaking, fever, or extreme swelling.
If you think you’ve been bitten by a brown recluse or black widow spider, you should also see a doctor. These bites can cause severe infections and serious side effects.
While bedbug and mosquito bites may appear similar, there are ways to tell the difference, such as that bedbugs may bite in a straight line while mosquitoes may bite in irregular patterns.