What is biting me?
August 18, 2013 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Lately I've been waking up with insect bites. It's really getting irritating and I don't want the same thing to happen to guests staying at my place, so I'm trying to figure our what this pest is and what I can do about it. Any ideas?

Here are the particulars:

I live on the sixth floor of a building near the lake in Chicago. I do often leave windows open a bit (without insect screens) during the summer. However, after five years living here this is the first time I've had the insect bite problem. The only flying bugs I ever get are the very occasional fly, and those tiny gnat things that love to fly around bright lights. No mosquitos for sure. There are different spiders that roam on the exterior wall of the building, and sometimes hang out inside my windows (which they do year round whether my windows are closed or not; they somehow find a way in).

The bites look and feel a lot like mosquito bites, except that the bump is smaller. Small raised bumps, slightly inflamed, very itchy, that last for a 2-3 days. They are isolated bumps, not in groups or lines (although sometimes two show up that are right next to each other).

The bites only take place at night, while I'm sleeping in my bed.

The bites are almost all on my fingers. I've had the odd one elsewhere on my hands, and even on a foot. None anywhere else on my body, I'm pretty sure.

Though the bites only happen in my bed, I never see any insects on my bed. I pretty much never see any bugs in my place at all, except for the very occasional fly, the aforementioned tiny gnats, sometimes a spider of some sort or other, and sometimes silverfish.
posted by Mechitar to Science & Nature (19 answers total)
Uh-oh. You need to test for bedbugs. Here is a good resource that will show you how.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 6:29 AM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you sure it isn't scabies? Itching at night and bumps on the hands sounds suspiciously like it might be.
posted by lollusc at 6:36 AM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you need to strip your bed and look carefully in the seams with a flashlight. If you see anything there, even a single bug, game on. They're hard to see since they're flat so they can hide in crevices. While you're at it check your sheets for tiny specks of blood. You may have bedbugs even if you don't find evidence like this, but it's an easy way to find that you have them for sure.

It could be something else, but bedbugs are very very likely since you live in a multi-unit building and the bites are at night and resemble mosquito bites (reaction to bedbugs varies but that's a common one). Sorry.
posted by randomnity at 6:36 AM on August 18, 2013

Are you sure they're bites? Is there a definite puncture mark in the centre of each bump?
posted by missmagenta at 7:03 AM on August 18, 2013

Response by poster: "Are you sure they're bites? Is there a definite puncture mark in the centre of each bump?"

No, not sure. It just didn't occur to me that they would be anything other than bites. I don't see any puncture marks now that you mention it.
posted by Mechitar at 7:58 AM on August 18, 2013

For an option other than bugs, take a look at images of Dyshidrotic eczema, see if that looks similar. I just had a few small patches of blisters bumps, and typically flared up overnight.
posted by rpbtm at 8:10 AM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is just possible it's some sort of dermatitis, if it's only on your hands. Have you changed soap or detergent, hand-washed clothes, used a new household polish or cleaner? But you should totally test for bedbugs and/or scabies too.
posted by glasseyes at 9:06 AM on August 18, 2013

Sounds a lot like bedbugs, to me. Small, itchy, red bumps on the hands and feet that appear at night? Definitely test for bedbugs, pronto. They can be very hard to get rid of; if you have them you need to treat for them ASAP, and very aggressively. Don't wait.
posted by Scientist at 10:46 AM on August 18, 2013

Totally sounds like bedbugs. I had them in my place in Lakeview/Boystown last December, and it's a little labor-intensive for a couple days, but you can be rid of them very quickly if you deal with it head-on and don't put it off.

Notify your building manager immediately, and be specific—tell them that you suspect bedbugs. They will likely take it very seriously. There's currently a bedbug epidemic in Chicago; the local media doesn't like to talk about it, but rental companies/landlords are very much aware of it. They should dispatch an exterminator to check your place for them right away, like in a couple days.

It's not about being clean/unclean or anything like that; they're just a parasite that is very, very successful because our culture makes it so. Too many people go down a little shame-spiral about having bugs, they don't seek treatment, and the problem persists. So, you know, don't do that.

Fun facts: the reason they bite you when you're sleeping is that they respond to the carbon dioxide you're exhaling as you sleep; it's like a dinner bell to them, and they know you're knocked out, so they can do their thing without actually disturbing you. It takes hours for the bites so start itching, and by then, they're safely back in their hiding place. Also, the reason you're being bitten on your more hairless places is that they have trouble dealing with hair because of the way their heads are constructed.

The exterminator my building employs is top-notch, if you need a recommendation. I was bugfree within 24-36 hours of treatment. Also, I know a lot about this now, so if you have questions or anything, my email is in my profile. Good luck!
posted by heyho at 11:13 AM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

That is exactly, exactly, how scabies manifested on me. It took about 4 to 6 weeks for it to turn into the classic scabies rash, which is normal. I was "lucky" in that the friend who gave it to me got diagnosed (after being treated for eczema for months) the same day I started getting the rash.

Not saying it is scabies, but having been there I'd do the treatment just in case. It's really hard to get a diagnosis before the full rash breakout, and it would be much better to avoid having that happen. They die after 2-3 days off the body, so a full treatment and a load of bedding laundry, and avoiding touching anything that can't be laundered for 3 days, did the trick here.
posted by Dynex at 11:38 AM on August 18, 2013

(That said, it also sounds like it could be bedbugs or fleas.)
posted by Dynex at 11:40 AM on August 18, 2013

I dont have much to add except that my bedbug bites did not have obvious puncture wounds. As opposed to mosquito bites, which, on me, have very obvious holes in the centre. Don't rule out bedbugs due to lack of obvious puncture wounds is what I'm saying.
posted by Gin and Comics at 12:04 PM on August 18, 2013

Definitely check for bugs -- but also definitely do GIS for dishydrotic eczema. I have it on my feet and briefly had it on my hands, and it's a lot like that.
posted by KathrynT at 12:38 PM on August 18, 2013

The two times this has happened to me in the last few years, it was only on one hand, mostly my fingers, and was caused by a spider living at one of the upper corners of my bed, where my hand sometimes rested while I slept. Removing the spider web stopped the bites.

Check for spider webs and other insect/arachnid living conditions around your bed.
posted by WasabiFlux at 12:46 PM on August 18, 2013

Based on what you describe - feels/looks like a mosquito bite, raised, red, itchy - I would say bedbugs. Except the location. Bedbugs are on the neck, back, legs... I don't see why they'd be on the fingers.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:28 PM on August 18, 2013

To counteract the bed bug voices: I lived through same experience in Toronto (9th floor, city centre). Bites on hands/wrists/arms (not back, legs, neck). I found no trace of bed bugs but because I travel a lot, I panicked and called in exterminators. They found no trace of bed bugs but did 1/2 of the treatment (one session, out of 2).

I moved out for a week (had a huge allergic reaction to the exterminating thing itself). So apartment was empty for a week. After that - got it vacuumed and thoroughly cleaned (again, due to allergic reaction).

Doctor/dermatologist said it's likely spider bites.

When I moved back the bites stopped.

If you see no bed bug evidence: vacuum, dust, clean - spider bites sound like what you have.
posted by olya at 10:17 PM on August 18, 2013

Nthing that it sounds like bedbugs and adding that when I had them they LOVED to bite my hands and fingers.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:30 AM on August 19, 2013

Check to see if anything (especially a fan) is growing mold around your bed area. I was getting itchy bumps that looked like insect bites, but it turns out I was just allergic to the black mold spores that were blowing onto my exposed skin as I slept.
posted by erigeneia at 11:55 AM on August 20, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the input. Further info: the bumps haven't been "red"; if they had any color (beyond normal skin color) at all it was every so slightly pink. Perhaps that alone rules out bed bugs.

Based on my research, the bumps didn't resemble scabies or dishydrotic eczema, both of which apparently manifest in rather particular ways.

Also, perhaps my persecutor has gone away, for I haven't gotten any new bumps in the past several days. So hopefully this question is moot now! For what it's worth, I think it was a kind of spider. Just wish I knew what kind.
posted by Mechitar at 10:00 AM on August 23, 2013

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