Bed Bug Bites vs. Mosquito Bites

mosquito picture

Knowing how to distinguish mosquito bites from bed bug bites can help you determine how to treat them, when to see a doctor, and when to call a pest control company. Which type of bite is the one on your skin? Here’s how to tell bed bug bites vs. mosquito bites.

The bites look similar, and determining if they were caused by bed bugs or mosquitoes include where they are on your body, whether they are grouped, and when you noticed them. Why do you need to know what bit you? A bed bug bite may have you inspecting your home, and mosquito bite symptoms may have you concerned about illness.

Bed Bug Bite Symptoms

What a Bed Bug Bite Looks Like

A typical bed bug bite is small, is flat or raised, and may become inflamed, red, itchy, or blistered. In an extreme case, the bite may become inflamed and blister-like.

Location: You’ll typically find bed bug bites on parts of the body you expose when sleeping: your hands, neck, face, shoulders, legs, and arms. Occasionally a bed bug can bite around the ankles.

Bite marks appear in clusters: Bed bug bites group where multiple bed bugs have fed. These clusters likely appear in a straight line or zigzag pattern.

When bed bug bites appear: A single bed bug can feed on a human host for up to 10 minutes. The bite won’t usually appear right after a bed bug has bitten you. In most cases, it becomes visible a few days after the bite occurs.

bed bug bite
Bed bug bites
Photo Credit: James Heilman, MD / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Are Bed Bug Bites Dangerous?

Bed bugs do not pass diseases to humans. If the bites turn to blisters or become infected, speak to your dermatologist. (See below for How to Treat Bed Bug Bites at Home and When to See a Doctor About Bed Bug Bites.)

Keep in mind: Not everyone reacts the same to a bed bug bite. Some people may experience no itchiness or redness, whereas others may have a more severe response.

Bed bug bites are a sign that you may have an infestation in your home. Bed bug infestations are difficult to manage and cause a lot of stress for homeowners. If you see bites on your skin, you may want to check for signs of bed bugs in your home. 

Pest management experts often are called in to help get rid of bed bugs, but the best defense is an offense. Know how to prevent bed bugs and save yourself the headache.

Mosquito Bite Symptoms

Mosquitoes have a painful bite that can often be felt immediately, almost like a small prick.

What a Mosquito Bite Looks Like

A mosquito bite is a small, round, puffy red bump that often becomes hard, swollen, and itchy.

Location: You’ll typically find mosquito bites on parts of the body not covered by clothing: your hands, neck, face, shoulders, legs, and arms. Mosquitoes rarely bite through clothes.

Mosquito bites are random: They can appear as a single bite or several welts scattered on your skin.

When mosquito bites appear: The bite appears soon after a mosquito has bitten you. 

Mosquito bites on an arm.
Mosquito bites on an arm.
Photo Credit: Seney Natural History Association / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Are Mosquito Bites Dangerous?

Mosquitos are one of the most dangerous pests in the world. If you experience extreme redness or itchiness, develop a fever, or are allergic to mosquito bites, you should see your doctor immediately. (See below for How to Treat Mosquito Bites at Home and When to See a Doctor About Mosquito Bites.) 

Children and the elderly are the most susceptible to these mosquito-borne pathogens.

Mosquito-borne illnesses: More than 1 million people worldwide die from mosquito-borne illnesses every year. These diseases include West Nile and Zika viruses, yellow fever, encephalitis (brain inflammation), dengue fever, malaria, and lymphatic filariasis.

Nearly 40,000 people in the U.S. have had West Nile virus disease since 1999, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension. More than 17,000 of these people have been seriously ill, and more than 1,600 have died.

Keep in mind: Some people make a more attractive mosquito bite target than others.

How to Treat Bed Bug Bites at Home

Bed bug bites will usually heal within one to two weeks. To treat bed bug bites at home, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following:

  • Wash the bites with soap and water to help prevent skin infection.
  • Apply a mild corticosteroid cream from your local drugstore if the itch becomes uncomfortable.

When to See a Doctor About Bed Bug Bites

bed bug
Photo Credit: Picryl

The American Academy of Dermatology encourages you to see your dermatologist if you experience the following bed bug bite symptoms:

  • You have several bites.
  • The bites develop into blisters.
  • The bites develop into an infection; that is, they feel tender or ooze pus. Your dermatologist may prescribe you an antibiotic or recommend an antiseptic medication to treat the infection.
  • An allergic skin reaction (skin turns red and swollen or you develop hives) occurs.
  • You have an allergic reaction to bed bug bites. In a severe case, some people may need an antihistamine injection, corticosteroid, or epinephrine (adrenaline).
  • Itchiness occurs. In such a case, a dermatologist may prescribe an antihistamine pill or liquid.

How to Treat Mosquito Bites at Home

If you’re dealing with a nuisance mosquito bite, the Mayo Clinic recommends these home remedies:

  • Apply a lotion, cream, or paste to the affected area. Anti-itch creams such as calamine lotion or nonprescription hydrocortisone cream can help stop the mosquito bite from itching.
  • Dab the bite with a paste made of baking soda and water.
  • Apply a cold compress to ease the bite.
  • Take a nonprescription antihistamine, such as Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton, if you have an allergic reaction to mosquito bites.

When to See a Doctor About Mosquito Bites

Don’t scratch mosquito bites. It can lead to infection. If you have “skeeter syndrome,” it’s an allergic reaction to the mosquito’s saliva. This large, local reaction causes significant inflammation. Some people have so much swelling that they have trouble moving. This condition occurs mainly in children and older adults.

See your doctor immediately for bite treatment if you develop a fever or any of the following severe symptoms after a mosquito bite:

  • A large, swollen, inflamed area
  • A hive-like rash
  • Swelling around the eyes

These could be signs of a mosquito-borne illness. If you have a severe allergic reaction to mosquito bites, seek medical attention immediately.


How Do I Know Whether it’s a Bed Bug or a Similar Critter?

Bed bugs appear about the size of an apple seed, and their babies, called nymphs, have the size of a poppy seed. Adults are brown but reddish-brown after feeding, whereas nymphs appear yellowish-white but bright or dark red after feeding. Bugs that look like bed bugs include cockroach nymphs, booklice, and carpet beetles, among others.

Will Bed Bugs and Mosquitoes Bite my Pets?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), bed bugs don’t live on dogs and cats but can bite them. The bites look like tiny red welts on the pet’s belly or limbs, typically in areas with less hair.

Mosquitoes also bite your dog and cat. Cats can become hypersensitive to a bite, developing lesions, scaling, or ulcers at the site. Other symptoms, such as paw pad changes, swollen lymph nodes, and fever can occur. Mosquitoes can also cause heartworm disease and other rare diseases in both dogs and cats.

How Do I Get Rid of Bed Bugs and Mosquitoes?

One way of getting rid of mosquitoes is to attract mosquito eaters to your yard; they’ll devour the bugs for you. You can also lay traps, such as the carbon dioxide mosquito trap, to reduce the risk. If you don’t want to use bug sprays bought from a store, you can make your own mosquito repellent to help you avoid these pesky critters. 

Vacuuming is one way to get rid of bed bugs. A vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter is preferred. Heat and cold treatments and steam cleaning are other methods that may control bed bugs, but these have specific requirements (for example, how hot or cold the treatments must be). However, all these methods don’t always work.

When to Call a Pest Management Expert

A pest management professional can provide solutions to help manage your mosquitos or bed bugs.

Call a pest control operator near you for a professional mosquito treatment or if you suspect a bed bug infestation in your home. If homemade mosquito repellents don’t work for you or you need an expert for a professional bed bug treatment, exterminators can help.

Main Image Credit: Pixabay

Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. Consult medical professionals for advice on treating insect bites.

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is a freelance writer and actor in New York City. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and enjoys a warm cup of French press coffee.