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Unknown and Mysterious Bug Bites
biting me? -
A number of insects and mites can bite and leave a
red, swollen, itchy bite mark. There are also other
causes of skin irritation that can be mistaken for bug
bites. In many cases what appears to be a bug bite may
in fact be caused by something else.
Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)
What if you have bug "bites" but can't find a
I am frequently asked to diagnosis the cause of bug
bites that seem to appear for no obvious reason. There
is no insect or mite
to identify and the person has either a vague
description of what may have bitten them or,
ironically, an extremely detailed description.
Most people who contact me believe there are many
insects and mites that bite us. In reality there are very few that actually
bite people (see this image gallery of the Top
12 Insects & Mites That Bite) and fewer
still for which we are the primary host. Take a look
at the list of insects and mites below that bite
people. If you can not clearly
identify one of these as the cause of your
bites then consider some of the other reasons. Notice
that the bites are all very similar in appearance
(red, itchy bump) making diagnosis from the bite alone
"bug bites" on wrist and arm;
many different agents can cause the skin
to erupt into red, swollen patches that
may appear to be bug bites.
Causes of real bug bites (check these first)
- Bed bugs - large, red,
splotchy, itchy, mosquito-like bites
- Bird mites (rat, rodent,
nest mites) - small, itchy, raised bites
- Biting midges - small,
red, intensely itchy bites
- Black flies - small
to large, red, itchy bites, sometimes mosquito-like
- Chigger mites - large,
red, intensely itchy bumps
- Fleas - red, itchy, bites
often around ankles, lower legs
- Lice; Head lice; Pubic
lice; Body lice
- red , itchy bites on scalp, groin or areas in
contact with clothing, depending on species
- Mosquitoes - red,
- Pyemotes mites
- small, itchy, red bites
- Scabies mites - red
bumps and burrows may be visible, intensely itchy
- Ticks - tick often found
attached to skin marked with red halo around bite
Things that can be
mistaken for bug bites
If you have a bug to id or
need a specific pest control recommendation see our Insect Id service. If, however, you
can't catch a real bug the cause may not be insects or
mites at all. The most common causes of red, itchy skin
since the red itchy skin lesions caused by real bug
bites are an allergic
reaction to proteins in the bug's saliva it
should not be surprising that other types of
allergies so closely resemble bug bites. Food and
respiratory allergies cause hives and itchiness that
closely resemble bug bites. In fact, allergies
are the number one cause of these skin reactions,
they are far more common than real bug bites. For
airborne allergens like mold spores air purifiers
with HEPA filters can be very effective at cleaning
the air of contaminants, see this article about air
purifiers that remove airborne allergens, or,
for example the Winix
PlasmaWave 5500 Air Cleaner.
Toxic chemicals - such as cleaning
solvents and pesticides can cause severe skin
lesions in sensitive individuals.
Physical irritants - anything from
fiberglass splinters to dry skin can cause
irritation. In the case of dry skin a simple room humidifier
can give fast, inexpensive relief. Dry, itchy skin
is mostly a problem during winter months when
central heating in our homes tends to dry the air.
See for example the Honeywell
Germ Free Cool Mist Humidifier.
Drug side effects - especially stimulants
like amphetamines which are notorious for causing
outbreaks of skin lesions caused by scratching to
relieve the "crawling" sensations; even prescription
drugs can cause these same effects.
Extreme emotional stress and anxiety can
cause skin lesions as well.
Food allergies are another cause of skin eruptions such
as hives that look very similar to small "bug bites".
People also react differently to chemical solvents and
even cleaning products and these reactions can change
over time with repeated exposure.
Even insecticides can cause skin to break out in red,
itchy patches. This is particularly serious because
insecticides that are applied because of an assumed
"insect infestation" may in fact be making things worse!
This is one reason we say that conventional
insecticides should not be used indoors. Botanical
insecticides are generally safer to use indoors.
Pesticides For Home And Gardens
I believe that many of the
"mysterious bug infestations" that afflict so many
people are caused by respiratory (mainly mold) or
food allergies that are being diagnosed as bug
bites**. These allergies can be easily treated once a
proper diagnosis is made. There are other underlying
medical conditions that can mimic the skin eruptions
of insect and mite "bites" and some of these
conditions can be serious.
line - you should not assume that a "bug" is
causing the problem unless you can capture and
identify one. In the absence of an verified bug your
first step should be to consult with a medical
professional to rule out some of the other
causes such as allergies. The quicker you find the
real cause the faster you'll get some relief.
**This information should not be
advice; always check with your own medical
adviser for specifics regarding your health
following a complete exam.
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