Throughout human history, mankind has encountered bug bites, irritations and skin allergies. The skin being the largest external organ, it is also on the receiving end of all kinds of pollution, toxins and parasitic agents. Naturally, if you suddenly experience itchiness or an outbreak of bite like lesions on the skin, it is important to find out what is bothering you. In this guide, we will determine whether you are suffering from contact dermatitis (allergic dermatitis) or bed bug bites.
Bed Bug bites: Signs and symptoms
Bites from insects are usually easier to identify and diagnose as compared to allergic/contact dermatitis and related skin conditions. An exception to the rule is bed bug bites particularly since bed bugs are elusive creatures which we cannot see, when they are actually biting us. Typically bed bug bites occur at night when we are deep in sleep. However, the following bed bug bite patterns can help you in this matter:
- Bed bug bites usually occur in the form of single large lesions on the face, neck and arms as well as other exposed body parts. New lesions could be seen every morning.
- You will also probably notice tell-tale signs of bed bug infestations like rust-like brown spots around the corners of bedding, mattresses etc. Bed bugs tend to hide during the day in cracks and crevices in furniture placed around the bedding and other sleeping areas.
- Large blisters could develop upon scratching the bites. These could ooze leaving a watery discharge.
In general; insect bites are characteristic puncture marks that occur due to the mouthparts of the bugs inserting our skin. Bed bug bites tend to occur only in some people that are allergic to the protein contained in the bug’s saliva. All biting insects inject histamine-like-substance that works like an anticoagulant to prevent the host’s blood from clotting. This facilitates easier drinking of blood meal for the pests.
Contact dermatitis: Signs and Symptoms
Contact dermatitis is a common skin condition that causes inflammation of the skin when the organ is exposed to an environmental agent. In contact dermatitis, the skin becomes red, itchy, swollen or inflamed when it comes in contact with certain substances. These substances can be classified into 2 types:
Allergens typically include adhesives, dyes and perfumes, nail polish, certain fabrics, metals like nickel, poison ivy, rubber, latex, gloves etc. Irritants include cement, hair dyes, pesticides, wet diapers, certain types of shampoos, weed killers and so on. Thus, the signs and symptoms of contact dermatitis vary from person to person depending upon whether s/he has been exposed to an irritant or allergen. These symptoms usually consist of one or more of the following:
- Red bumps, rashes or oozing blisters
- Swelling, pus formation, crusty appearance.
- Redness, scaling, raw and tender to touch.
Bed bug bites versus contact dermatitis: what to do?
If you are distinctly waking up at night with itching, swelling and red bumps on arms and legs the next morning, you must monitor the sleeping area for the pests. If you see other tell-tale signs of bed bugs, do call the Integrated Pest Control Services for getting rid of the bed bugs. Spot treatments, traps, sanitation and continuous evaluation are also necessary to prevent more bed bug bites.
If however, you do not see any signs of the pests, but are still experiencing skin issues as those presented by contact dermatitis, please do not hesitate to see a dermatologist. S/he will evaluate if the condition is pruritis (itching), scabies or an allergic reaction to some irritant. If however, s/he identifies the skin reaction as a bed bug bite, do take all necessary steps to prevent the situation from going out of control.
The doctor will generally take a complete history in order to make a diagnosis of bed bug bites vs contact dermatitis. If another member of the family is also seen with similar bed bug bites then the result is clear. Also, if a patient’s parent has had similar reaction after having come in contact with an allergen or irritant then it is clearly contact dermatitis.
Treatment for bed bug bites and contact dermatitis
Bed bug bites can be treated with the application of 1% hydrocortisone cream or 10% crotamiton cream which is a short term steroid. If bed bug bites are very itchy and keeping you awake at night, a sedating antihistamine may be used. For contact dermatitis, the treatment varies based on the type of irritant or allergen causing the dermatitis. Zinc based ointments or castor oil treatment is usually recommended for both types. It is important to identify the irritant and stop its use immediately. A weak (1%) hydrocortisone preparation can also be applied 2-3 times a day to the rash for a period of 4-5 days or until it improves.
We hope this guide puts to rest the debate between bed bug bites vs contact dermatitis.