My spidey sense feels like burning
March 17, 2012 7:51 PM   Subscribe

Bug bite filter: I woke up with three painful welts that I suspect are insect or spider bites. One of them looks potentially worrisome. Gross bug bite descriptions inside.

All three are circular red welts about the size of a dime with a distinct bump in the middle that looks like it probably contains puss (gross, I know). The bites are painful, but not itchy. They are all along my lower abdomen, so it seems logical that whatever bit me crawled across my stomach, biting repeatedly along the way.

One of the welts has formed a curved tail shape that extends from the middle of the welt and (the tail section) is about an inch long. This has happened once before with a bite that I got years ago (also while sleeping) and a friend of mine who has a biology background said it was a sign of something bad (venom, maybe? i don't remember).

For what it's worth, I live in Chicago. It has been super warm here and I noticed a spider in my bathroom this morning. Normally spiders and other bugs don't appear in/around my apartment until May or June, but maybe the unseasonably warm weather has released the kraken, so to speak.

Does anyone know what kind of bite might cause a welt that forms a tail? I tried asking google, but couldn't find anything specific about the tail shape. I am going to the doctor on Thursday, but I could probably get in sooner if it's urgent or if I develop any other symptoms. Mostly I'm curious about the tail shape and wondering what might have bitten me. In the meantime, is there anything I can do to treat the bites aside from taking NSAIDs and applying a cold compress?
posted by Mrs.Spiffy to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
Sequential bites like that usually indicate feeding behavior, a bloodsucker as opposed to something biting you defensively. I'd be more worried about bedbugs than poisonous spiders.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:55 PM on March 17, 2012

I appreciate the input, but my bites don't look anything like those on the bed bug wikipedia page or others that I've seen. Also, as I said in my post, my bites don't itch at all. They are sore and painful. There are three bites, but they are rather spread out (about 5-10 inches apart). Hope that helps clarify things.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 8:04 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

How long ago did you discover these bites? (you say you woke up, but when - 14 hours ago? or just an hour ago?)

Is the pain "intense"?

Is the shape, size, or color of the bites changing?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:26 PM on March 17, 2012

I noticed the bites on Friday morning, when I was getting ready for work. The tail seems to have developed over the past 24 hours. I don't remember it being there on Friday and I noticed it this morning when I was putting "neosporin + pain relief" on the bites. They don't ache, but they hurt if I touch them or if they come into contact with anything (tight jeans, for instance). Aside from the tail, I don't think they bites have changed in size or color, although I can't say for sure because I had band-aids on them for the first 24 hours.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 8:35 PM on March 17, 2012

I'm not a medical anything, but my rough rule of thumb is:
1) if it's changing (size, shape, color, painfulness, swelling), especially if it's changing fast, get checked.
2) if it's red and warm, those are signs of infection; get checked.

I don't know whether there's an animal whose bites grow a tail. I would think about putting a dot or two of ink marking the edges of the tail right now, so you can see if it's growing, so you can see if you fit into item 1.

If it doesn't seem dangerous but merely annoying (itchy or a bit swollen but not changing scarily), try a Benadryl - if it's an allergic reaction, that might bring it down.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:42 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, have you had any other symptoms? Fever, nausea, headache? Those would also be marks in the "get checked" column.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:54 PM on March 17, 2012

I've had a tail from an insect bite form from a bite and thought it may be venom. But when I went to the doctor, he informed me that it wasn't serious, as it wasn't terribly swollen nor did the tail really grow fast or much at all.

He said the tail was just the saliva from the insect irritating the skin.

So as long as things aren't changing as LobsterMitten said or really swollen and you have no fever etc., just relax, take it easy until you see the doctor.
posted by timespacewheredoifit at 9:00 PM on March 17, 2012

But bedbug bites typically itch and don't have the pus-dot, do they? To me that suggests venom, like a spider bite. Could this have been a spider, but trapped in your clothing so that it left a bedbug-like arrangement of bites? Fire ants?

Does anyone know what kind of bite might cause a welt that forms a tail?

Dunno, but it does trigger my junior-woodchuck memory of blood poisoning symptoms: so if it lengthens or you get swollen lymph nodes or any other signs of infection you should probably seek quicker care. I'm guessing you don't need to be told that though.

I have occasionally gotten mosquito bites with a sort of comma shape.
posted by hattifattener at 9:22 PM on March 17, 2012

If they MIGHT be changing in size or shape, take a fine point sharpie and outline the edge so you can actually tell if they reduce or expand in size or shape.
posted by raccoon409 at 9:23 PM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does they look like blisters? I had a rash that looked like circular blisters. Not itchy, just painful. (Nothing in the blisters, the skin would just rub off after a few days and it would hurt a lot until it healed.) It started with two or three spots and then started spreading. I thought it was bug bites, horrible allergic reactions to something, deadly flesh eating bacteria, etc. It was fungal. I got antifungal cream from the drugstore and it felt better in a just a few hours. It took a few weeks to clear completely up, but by that point I'd spent a few weeks letting it spread while I was changing laundry detergents and soaps, despite the fact that it wasn't itchy.
posted by artychoke at 10:03 PM on March 17, 2012

Are the bites only on one side of your body? I had what you describe a few years ago. (although I'm not sure about the tail part.) I was convinced they were bug bites, when they didn't seem to be getting better after a couple of days, and the pain was quite bothersome I traced them with a pen like raccoon409 suggests. They were indeed slowly getting bigger. I went to the doctor and it turned out I had shingles. The "bites" eventually turned into blisters.

None of the images that come up on google for shingles look like what I had. They really did look and feel like spider bites.
posted by sadtomato at 5:43 AM on March 18, 2012

Seconding what sadtomato said. I once had what I thought were mystery bug bites but it turned out to be shingles.
posted by ellenaim at 6:05 AM on March 18, 2012

Oh and if it is shingles, an anti-viral treatment for shortening the duration and minimizing symptoms is effective only if started within 72 hours from when the welts appeared.
posted by ellenaim at 6:16 AM on March 18, 2012

raccoon409: Good idea with the sharpie. I can already tell that the tail has gotten smaller, so hooray. I will keep that little trick in mind if this happens again.

artychoke: They don't really look like blisters, but if they start multiplying I'll definitely ask my doctor about the possibility that it's fungal.

sadtomato: My bites are bilateral. Do shingles usually present on only one side? I've already noticed my bites getting smaller and I don't have any other symptoms, so I think I'm in the clear.

timespacewheredoifit: "He said the tail was just the saliva from the insect irritating the skin."


Thanks for all the great answers! Any more ideas about how to treat that at home? They seem to be improving, but they still hurt quite a bit.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 7:00 AM on March 18, 2012

Have you tried a skeeter stick? That might be a brand name, but I'm using it generically. They're sold in drug stores, and you apply them right on the bite. Here's Benadryl's version. I get dramatic reactions to mosquito bites, and this helps greatly.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:04 AM on March 18, 2012

FYI, shingles usually start as some kind of cluster or band, torso is a common place for shingles to present, and they can wrap around your torso. Your description does not necessarily sound like stereotypical shingles, but the fact that your "bites" are still painful, even if seemingly healing, is worrisome, because that can be a characteristic of shingles, or at the least of an infection. Keep up with the neosporin, and maybe try, as other say, some allergy medication. However, if the pain persists, see a doctor, because you have the best results by treating shingles early with antivirals.
posted by gudrun at 8:44 AM on March 18, 2012

Shingles preset unilaterally along a dermatome. Since your welts are presenting bilaterally I would say it isn't shingles.
posted by ellenaim at 9:07 AM on March 18, 2012

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