People generally don’t like bugs. In fairness, this feeling is not without reason. Throughout history we have consistently dealt with insects and their relatives who like to use us as a source of food. Phrases like “sleep well, don’t let the bed bugs bite” are rooted in a time when we had to worry about being bitten by insects, even while we were sleeping. As a result, our bodies and minds are wired to look out for pests ready to bite us. However, sometimes the cause of an itch is not a fault at all. Here is a selection of pests and other conditions that cause itching.
Bed bugs: As the name suggests, these pests will settle in your bed or other areas where you sleep or spend a lot of time. They eat relatively quickly, only taking 5-10 minutes for a meal before disappearing into nearby cracks and crevices. Everyone reacts differently to a bed bug bite, but the most common reaction is an itchy, raised bump that resembles a mosquito bite. For more information on bed bugs, see the University of Kentucky Entfact 636, which is available online at https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef636. If you suspect you may have a bed bug infestation, contact a pest control professional.
Fleas: These tiny bloodsuckers often end up at home after driving pets. The adults are the ones responsible for the itchy bites that can appear in humans and pets. Adult fleas are amazing jumpers and live off their host. But they find it difficult to hold onto people because we don’t have enough hair. Often the larvae live in animal litter and feed on their parents’ droppings.
Lice: Humans can encounter head, body and pubic lice. Head lice are the most common and are the ones people think of often, especially in school-age children. Lice have modified legs that help them cling to human hair wherever they live and feed. They don’t fly, jump, or crawl much in the area.
Mosquitoes: Mosquitoes are usually not a problem in the winter months, but the females land on humans in the summer for a blood meal. Your saliva usually induces an itchy red welt on your skin. Larvae live in the water and do not feed on humans.
Chiggers: Another classic summer enemy, chiggers, are immature mites that partially digest skin cells and slurp them for nutrition. Instead of digging into the skin, they insert a long tube into our body. Your digestive enzymes and tubes can cause a crazy itch.
Scabies: Unlike chiggers, scabies mites actually live in the body. Scabies can cause pimple-like pustules on the skin and, if infected, leave noticeable “tunnels” in the skin. Scabies is usually transmitted through long-term skin contact and can be transmitted between family members or sexual partners. Only a dermatologist can help you identify and treat a scabies problem. Most entomologists or county extension agents don’t have a powerful microscope to identify them.
Invisible itch: Sometimes people experience sensations that feel like insects are crawling on them or that something is biting them, but they find no evidence of pests. This “invisible itch” can be very difficult. Sometimes people have temporary problems with insects like thrips that can poke the skin, or even problems with fowl mites that have left a recently abandoned bird’s nest. You may be dealing with sensations similar to a bug problem, but actually caused by something else. At this time of year, dry skin is a major cause of invisible itching. Additionally, some medications can produce side effects that mimic insect sensations, as well as problems with untreated diabetes, lupus, or arthritis, among others. In other cases, homes can become contaminated with irritants such as fiberglass or broken paper. Chemicals can also cause irritation similar to an insect bite. It is important to be open about such symptoms and consider other possible causes of the lack of six legs or more.
If your skin is itchy, it is best to contact your dermatologist or family doctor. Home remedies like topical anti-inch creams, oatmeal baths, witch hazel, and over-the-counter allergy medications can help.
For more information on error detection, contact the Laurel County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.
Sources: Jonathan Larson and Zachary DeVries, British entomologists
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