Fleas are tiny, reddish-brown insects. They are external parasites and feed off of the blood of birds and mammals. They normally feed on the blood of animals, but they can also feed on the blood of humans. Fleas don’t have wings, but they have flat bodies and strong legs, which allow them to jump long distances. They travel by jumping from one person or animal to another.
Your home may become infested with fleas if your pet brings these parasites into your house. Fleas are small and can easily hide in upholstery, so you may not be aware of their presence until a large infestation has occurred. They also have armored bodies that make them almost impossible to crush, allowing them to thrive in your carpet undetected.
Though individual fleas can be difficult to notice, once a flea infestation occurs, you may be able to see multiple fleas hopping onto your furniture or curtains. You might also notice your pets scratching more than usual. You can get fleabites as well if the fleas jump from your pet and onto your body.
Fleas may hop onto your pet’s fur from another pet or from infested dirt or grass outside. When the fleas reproduce, more fleas can infest your home. They tend to hide in bedding, furniture, and floor cracks. Fleas also like to stay on an animal’s underbelly, so they can easily be transferred to your carpet when your pet lies down.
Fleas live and breed in warm, moist places, so infestations are usually worse in the summer months.
Signs of a flea infestation include:
- seeing fleas hopping on your drapery, carpet, or furniture
- seeing multiple dot-like insects in your pet’s fur
- seeing your pets scratch, lick, or bite their fur excessively
Your pets can get scabs or lose their fur in the infested area. They may develop pale gums from blood loss. Animals infested with fleas are also more susceptible to tapeworms, as some species of tapeworm use fleas as their hosts.
Fleas may jump onto you from your pet and bite you to feed on your blood. When a flea bites you, your body releases a chemical called "histamine" as a reaction to the saliva from the flea. Histamine causes a red, itchy bump to form at the location of the bite. If you scratch it, the bump may get bigger, and the itching will often get worse.
Unlike mosquito bites, fleabites on humans are usually located on the lower legs and feet. The bites are characterized by red spots surrounded by red halos. Additional symptoms of a fleabite may include:
- a rash
- swelling around the bite
Symptoms begin immediately after you’re bitten. No tests are necessary to confirm a fleabite, as they can usually be diagnosed based on an accurate physical examination. However, you may need to take your pet to a veterinarian to be checked and treated for fleas.
Some people have an allergic reaction to fleabites. If you’re allergic to fleas, your immune system may overreact to the insect bite and release an increased amount of histamine. This could cause a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- intense itching
- a rash or hives on various parts of the body
- shortness of breath or wheezing
- swelling of the face, hands, mouth, or lips
Anaphylaxis can be life threatening if it isn’t treated immediately. You may need to take diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or use an epinephrine injection (EpiPen) if you’re having difficulty breathing.
Call 911 or go to the emergency room right away if you believe you’re having a severe allergic reaction to a fleabite.
A flea infestation needs to be treated aggressively. To get rid of a flea infestation, you must treat yourself, your pets, and your home.
Treating Fleabites and Fleas
To treat fleabites on your body, you may use over-the-counter anti-itch creams, lotions, or ointments.
You can treat your pets for fleas by cleaning their fur with anti-flea shampoo and anti-flea powder. You should also put an anti-flea collar on your pets or apply a topical medication, such as Frontline or Advantage. The collar and medication can treat the flea infestation on your pets and prevent another one from occurring. There are also oral anti-flea medications available. Your veterinarian can help you decide which method will work best for you and your pets.
Once your pets have been treated, you should wash their bedding with hot water to kill any flea larvae. If your pet sleeps in the same bed as a family member, make sure to wash their bedding as well.
Treating Your Home
You should always clean areas in your home where you have seen fleas and where your pets spend a lot of time. Thoroughly clean your carpet using a vacuum with a disposable bag. Vacuum your furniture using a handheld vacuum or an attachment from an upright vacuum. After vacuuming, take the vacuum outside and remove the bag. Don’t dispose of the bag inside your home.
You may also be able to find flea-killing sprays and powders at your local grocery store. These products can be used to eliminate flea infestations in your home. If you decide to use these products, however, your pets may need to leave the house for a specified period of time for their safety.
Flea infestations are often frustrating and challenging to eliminate. However, there are preventive measures you can take to prevent an infestation from happening in the first place.
Vacuuming frequently will help to remove fleas and the debris that they use as camouflage. It’s also helpful to mow your lawn regularly and to keep your yard free of tall weeds and grasses. Fleas thrive in these types of environments and can jump onto your pet.
During the summer, which is peak flea season, it can be particularly beneficial to treat your pet with anti-flea medication, such as Advantage or Frontline.
You may also benefit from using anti-flea products in your home if you frequently experience flea infestations. These products can be applied directly to your carpet and floors to destroy flea eggs and larvae.
Medically Reviewed by: Steve Kim, MD
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.