How to treat flea bites and get rid of fleas in your home

Fleas can bite humans or animals, and they are very difficult to spot.
Fleas can bite humans or animals, and they are very difficult to spot.

gutaper/Getty Images

  • To treat flea bites, you can use anti-itch cream and keep the wound clean to reduce the risk of infection. 

  • If your pet has fleas, and has a brought a flea infestation into your home, you’ll also need to get rid of the fleas by vacuuming or extermination. 

  • Though flea bites may be more likely to occur if you have a pet, it can happen anytime you’re outside in tall grass or wooded areas.

  • This article was medically reviewed by Sharleen St. Surin-Lord, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Visage Dermatology and assistant professor of dermatology at Howard University.

  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Fleas are small, flightless insects that feast on the blood of mammals and birds. There are more than 2,000 flea species globally, and about 300 types in the US. 

Fleas typically live in dark, moist places and can be found in wood piles, tall grass, trees, and shrubs. Most people associate flea bites with pets or animals, but they can live on humans too, regardless of whether or not you have pets. 

Here’s how to treat flea bites and eliminate these pesky pests from your home.

What do flea bites look like? 

Flea bites are often grouped together on the legs, ankles, or feet.
Flea bites are often grouped together on the legs, ankles, or feet.

anamariategzes/ iStock

Fleas are very small and difficult to see, but their bites are actually quite distinctive, says Michael McLaughlin, a Wilderness EMT and EMS provider in California.

On both humans and animals, flea bites look like small red bumps, about two to 10 millimeters in size. And they often form a line. 

“The tell-tale sign is the three to four bites following a directional pattern,” McLaughlin says. “You could have many of these but they seem to go in groups in this fashion.” 

Bites are likely to occur on the lower parts of your body around your ankles and feet because fleas are most likely to come into contact with you from the ground. The location is one the best ways to tell them apart from mosquito bites or bed bug bites: 

bug bite comparison table
bug bite comparison table

Yuqing Liu/Insider

Flea bite symptoms

If a flea bites you, you may feel a sharp sting. Then, shortly after, the following symptoms can develop at the site: 

However, if you are allergic to fleas, symptoms can become more severe, including: 

Allergic reactions to flea bites are rare, but if you experience any of these allergy symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately. 

How to treat flea bites 

Most of the time, flea bites are easy to treat at home without medical attention, as long as you don’t experience an allergic reaction. 

Even though the bites can be uncomfortable and itchy, McLaughlin says you should try to refrain from scratching them. 

“Normally the bites will go down after a few days,” McLaughlin says. “The less scratching, the faster they go down, so don’t scratch.” 

With that in mind, here’s a few at-home treatment methods for flea bites: 

  • Wash the bites with soap and water to keep the area clean and decrease your risk of infection. 

  • You can use an over-the-counter antihistamine, like Zyrtec or Claritin, to help reduce itchiness and keep you from scratching. 

  • Anti-itch creams like hydrocortisone and calamine lotion can also relieve itching. Sarna lotion can also relieve itching. These are available over-the-counter and should be applied in small amounts directly on the bite site, up to four times a day or as frequently as instructions advise. 

  • Try to avoid taking a hot shower, as warm water can exacerbate itchy skin. The drop in body temperature once you get out of the shower can trigger histamine production and make the itching worse. 

  • Seek care from a medical professional if the itching is not relieved by over-the-counter products, as they can prescribe stronger topical steroids if necessary. 

If you experience swelling, an open sore, or discharge at the bite site, you may have an infection, and should see a doctor for further treatment. 

How to get rid of fleas 

While anyone can get flea bites, humans are most likely to come into contact with fleas directly from their pets. 

That’s because dogs or cats spend more time in the grass and dirt, where fleas live. So, even though the symptoms of flea bites may resolve in a few days, you are likely to continue getting bitten if you do not treat your pet and home. 

Research shows that vacuuming is one of the best ways to eliminate fleas, and can even kill 96% of adult fleas. But getting rid of just the adult fleas won’t completely solve your problem. 

Fleas have a long life cycle of about 20 to 35 days, and there may still be hundreds of eggs in your home that could hatch a week later. According to the National Pest Association, you should contact a pest management professional, like an exterminator, if you suspect a flea infestation in your home. If you see fleas hopping onto your furniture or curtains or you notice multiple, dot-like insects in your carpet, you’re likely dealing with an infestation. 

To reduce the risk of a flea infestation in your home, the National Pest Association recommends these tips:

  • Clean and vacuum your home frequently, especially areas where your pets come in and out of the house. Throw away vacuum container bags and regularly clean vacuum filters. 

  • Regularly check your pets for fleas, especially if you notice excessive scratching. One way to do this is to have your pet lay on a white towel or sheet and brush their fur. If you see dark specks that look like dirt falling off onto the sheet or towel, you may be dealing with fleas.  

  • If you suspect flea bites on your pet, you should take them to a veterinarian immediately. Depending on the severity of your pet’s case, the veterinarian may prescribe flea medications, topical treatments, or recommend a flea shampoo.

In addition, our colleagues at Insider Reviews have put together a list of the best flea treatments for dogs. 

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