Itchy Red Bumps -- what's eating me?
December 23, 2005 11:25 AM   Subscribe

What's eating me? Much, much,

So me and my family have been getting itchy red bumps for about 6 weeks. After consulting many doctors, the dermatologist said that she couldn't prove it but that her best bet was scabies. We've treated for that (about 4 days ago) and are still getting new itchy red bumps.
Given the lack of evidence (no mites ever seen under the microscope, meds ineffective, bumps don't present like typical scabies) I'm looking for alternative explanations and treatments.

I know scabies symptoms can persist after treatment, but my understanding is that existing burrows can continue to itch, not that new sites appear.

I'm suspecting we have fleas, or other biters. We haven't investigated this yet because we're bad candidates for fleas: no pets, hardwood floors throughout, hard freezes recently.

Here are my questions:
* What kind of doc should I go see to get a real explanation about contagious itchy red bumps
* What can I do to determine what kind of pests are in my house
* assuming they're fleas, what can I do to treat without bombing my house?

A bit more about our bites:
bumps are 1/4 to 1/2 inch across or less. They itch. They've appeared on the wife, the kid, and mostly on me. Typically torso, (waste), arms, some on the legs. They seem to start, then persist for 2-3 days and then go away. although they do leave small red marks.

We live in western washington state. The only possible source of animal interaction we know of is our native 'urban wild life' -- squirrels, possibly rats/mice (we live near a resturant), possums.

Thanks in advance for the help!
posted by daver to Health & Fitness (41 answers total)
posted by amber_dale at 11:30 AM on December 23, 2005

We've ruled out bed bugs. Typically bed bug bites bleed and leave bloody stains in the bed. We don't have any of those symptoms. We've also thoroughly cleaned the house, vaccumed the bed and inspected it and the mattress for any signs of bed bugs. Good guess, and I'm happy to reconsider but for now I'm thinking no.
posted by daver at 11:35 AM on December 23, 2005

It's scabies.
posted by ewkpates at 11:45 AM on December 23, 2005

posted by daver at 11:50 AM on December 23, 2005

That doesn't really sound like scabies, the bumps sound too large, and I've had them guesting under my skin several times. But...

Do you get the bumps in the webbing of your fingers? Scabies love that part of the body. That's the first place you would notice them. Does the itching wake you up at night from a dead sleep? If they don't, it's probably not scabies. If they do, my treatment for them:

* Oral ivermectin pills. These are better than creams. Take them as directed.
* Wash everything you sleep on in hot water and a hot dryer several times. Do this daily during treatment.
* Bag up your clothing in ziplock bags and toss them in the closet. Forget about opening those bags for at least two weeks. Buy new clothing.

Scabies are tough little bastards, so it's quite possible that four days of treatment isn't enough. One of my infections went away briefly, and then came back, so be prepared to cry and wail and deal with this for several weeks.
posted by cmonkey at 11:55 AM on December 23, 2005

In the interests of more information: the Wife and I were treated with Stromectol, which makes the chances of mis-applying the medice very low (since it's a pill).
posted by daver at 11:55 AM on December 23, 2005

I agree, sounds like scabies. (Which is like adult chicken pox.)
posted by chunking express at 11:56 AM on December 23, 2005

No bumps on hands, either -- just arms, torso, legs. The 3 year old get them on her neck and one on her face.
posted by daver at 11:57 AM on December 23, 2005

And yes, I know that ivermectin page goes to information about treating heartworm in dogs. Your doctor can still prescribe them for you, every pharmacy carries them, and your skin will feel very gross as the livestock poison oozes out your pores.
posted by cmonkey at 11:57 AM on December 23, 2005

On the face? I really doubt that's scabies, then. They're very sensitive to temperature, so they really only hang out in warm parts of the body.
posted by cmonkey at 11:59 AM on December 23, 2005

Scabies. Scabies are a parasite. Chicken pox is a virus.

Our bumps appear in clusters (1-5), but are otherwise dispersed. For example: 5 in left arm pit, 1 waist line, 2 back of neck.

seriously: I'm open to considering they're scabies, I just need some evident I haven't heard of yet, and since we've been to the dermatologist twice I think I've heard it all. That said, keep it coming, maybe I missed something along the way.

Assuming it's not scabies, any other ideas? How do I rule out fleas?
posted by daver at 12:05 PM on December 23, 2005

I was once incorrectly diagnosed with scabies.

I had an extremely severe case of ezcema. This included a rash that looked like red pock marks, which would scab and then bleed through.

It covered roughly 70% of my body, including my inner thighs, stomach, arms, hands (in between fingers, outside of hand), lower legs and back.

On the other hand, it wasn't contagious. And none of them showed up in skin swabs.

I went to a dermatologist (a good one) and he was the one who diagnosed me with ezcema.

It didn't make things easier to treat, however. Prednisone, which I assure you is not a fun trip into corticol steroids, was prescribed and offered some relief, but no removal.

Believe it or not, nine months of constant bleeding (my jeans would actually bleed through; my shirt would stick to my back, and my hand would bleed onto whatever I was writing on) and scratching the worst possible itching you can imagine, all over, I found a homeopathic doctor who suggested granite. And it worked, in about two weeks.

Ridiculous, I know.

I also recognize this isn't in the same vein. But I wanted to add that scabies can be misdiagnosed, especially when your doctor doesn't really know what's going on. Go see a good dermatologist.
posted by disillusioned at 12:09 PM on December 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've had scabies once before and this doesn't sound at all like scabies to me, especially if there aren't any mites present under the microscope. (And yeah, while scabies can be pretty tenacious little buggers and may require longer than 4 days treatment, there ought to be at least some sign of relief after 4 days.)

It sounds a lot more like fleas, to me -- your symptoms sound exactly like the symptoms described to me by an ex, who had an infestation once.
posted by scody at 12:10 PM on December 23, 2005

On posting, you've been to a dermatologist.

Now, all I can do is emphasize good one. So many skin conditions left to manifest themselves in similar ways that you really do need to get it narrowed down for your best chance to treat it.
posted by disillusioned at 12:11 PM on December 23, 2005

Check again for bedbugs. Try setting out a glue trap near the bed. The bites you describe sound like what I experienced.

Until you have a really serious infestation, you might not find the other signs you mentioned like marks on the sheets and actual physical sightings of the bugs. Unfortunately, the cleaning and vacuuming you did might not locate or eliminate bedbugs at the early stages.
posted by footnote at 12:12 PM on December 23, 2005

Also, it's not the bedbug bites that bleed -- it's the bugs themselves.
posted by footnote at 12:14 PM on December 23, 2005

Along a similar vein to disillusioned, one of my doctors diagnosed me with scabies once and it wasn't until a couple of years' worth of scratching later that a new doctor discovered I had cancer. My scratching doesn't sound like yours and of course, cancer can't be passed around so I'm not saying that's what yours might be. I'm just saying go see more dermatologists, I guess.

Also, one thing that original doctor had us do when he thought it was scabies was to cover our mattress with a plastic sheet. One of those for people allergic to dust or for people with bedwetting issues, depending upon which aisle you find them in. I'd agree that your situation doesn't sound like scabies, but maybe it's something else that might need suffocation to die. Always worth a try when you're scratching yourself silly, right?
posted by Moondoggie at 12:18 PM on December 23, 2005

OK, I'm off to get a gluetrap for near the bed this evening.
Keep 'em coming! Xmas guests in T-30 hours...
posted by daver at 12:20 PM on December 23, 2005

Need more information.

There are also viral rashes that can cause such symptoms as well as environmental conditions.
Also - severe allergic reaction, though it's doubtful unless your home has recently been sprayed with a foreign substance (new exterminator, perhaps?)

There are many more types of biting mites besides bedbugs.

You need to see another specialist. Try to set down all of the events just prior to this outbreak, no matter how silly, and trace it down to a possible culprit. Any relatives visit six weeks ago? Stray dogs the kids have stumbled on? Ect.....
posted by IronLizard at 12:21 PM on December 23, 2005

Maybe this is a dumb comment but are you sure you and your family don't have chicken pox? It is possible to get chicken pox as an adult but most adults tend to get shingles (literally chicken pox for adults who have had chicken pox earlier in life) or so I've been told.
posted by LunaticFringe at 12:27 PM on December 23, 2005

Those sound like flea bites to me. If so, you should be able to spot a few fleas hopping around the house. Go Ask Alice outlines the best methods of biting-bug eradication in order of escalation.
posted by naomi at 12:32 PM on December 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

If not flea bites, sounds like mites to me, if all of you happen to be sensitive to them or they're particularly a fiesty variety. (And I fourth the not-scabies diagnosis. Definitely not.) Spider mites or mouse mites?

Dehumidifying and some insecticides might, might help.

(Disclaimer: I am not an anything.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:33 PM on December 23, 2005

In my experience (many infestations in my childhood home), fleas usually die with a hard freeze. Also, do not do a Google Images search for scabies.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:38 PM on December 23, 2005

If the glue trap doesn't give you any useful results, maybe you could call around some pest-control services and see if any of them have any expertise in catching and identifying small biting critters? It seems like this would be a whole lot easier if you could identify the perpetrator instead of playing "name that bite."
posted by Lyn Never at 12:43 PM on December 23, 2005

Flea bites hurt while the flea is biting you. Yes, you'll get itchy bumps later too, but you'll know it immediately when it happens. So I doubt fleas (in addition for the reasons you mentioned).
posted by TimeFactor at 12:49 PM on December 23, 2005

What else do you go besides your home? Fleas can come home on your clothing and then bite you for a while before dying but never be present in your home in very large numbers. I'd blame the kid personally- does he have any potentially flea-ridden friends? The other family might not notice them because they're not sensitive.
posted by fshgrl at 1:04 PM on December 23, 2005

i've seen people come in with flea bites and were oblivious to being bitten. in one case the diagnosis was made when the dood told a story about sleeping at a relative's house, next to a dog and its bed. oh, and the relative actually called the office and said the dog had fleas. 8P

is there any way you could take a foto of yr bites and slap a link up here?
posted by herrdoktor at 1:06 PM on December 23, 2005

Something to do with hottubs?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:21 PM on December 23, 2005

Bedbug bites don't bleed and leave bloody stains in the bed (unless you've been itching them, and even then, not always so much); the marks you would be looking for to determine bedbug infestation would be blackish marks near the seams, which is based on the blood-based fecal matter the bedbugs leave behind.

Also, bedbugs, contrary to their name, do not always have to be hiding in a bed. They are happy to congregate in crevices and cracks, very often within baseboards. I had an area in my closet where a piece of the doorframe bowed out from the wall, and they congregated a great deal in there. Unless you've been amazingly thorough, you can't rule out them. And vacuuming is really not very effective against bedbugs; the best you could do would be eliminate a single generation of them, without addressing the eggs that would be in crevice areas.

I say this because it would be unwise of you to assume that you have ruled out bedbugs as an option, based solely on what you've shared with us.

Are your itchy red dots found in a pattern of three in a relatively straight line? That can often be a bedbug indicator.

Frankly, given the circumstances you are describing, I would suggest contacting a local exterminator and see if they will give you a free inspection. In areas of high competition, they often will, under the understanding that the free inspection often leads them into a job. For now, you could simply use it to see if they locate a bedbug (or flea, or _________) infestation.

A word of warning: some exterminators will try to fumigate to kill bedbugs. Fumigation has no effect on bedbugs, and if they recommend it, you will know they have no experience dealing with bedbugs, and that you should go to a competitor.

Best of luck.

(I rewrote a large chunk of the Wikipedia bedbug entry linked to above, after my own August 2005 bedbug infestation. Bedbugs are not fun.)
posted by WCityMike at 1:21 PM on December 23, 2005

I would bet on fleas or bedbugs, but just to make sure: have you started using a new laundry detergent recently? Fabric softener? Bath soap? Since you're exploring all angles, why not go and get a bottle of hypoallergenic laundry detergent and use that for a while. If it helps, great, if not, oh well.
posted by jellicle at 1:41 PM on December 23, 2005

In our experience, flea bites tend to occur mostly on the legs, as the fleas will hop on you from the floor when you are walking by.

Xmas guests in T-30 hours... Sorry to add to your stress, but seriously, I would be so pissed off if I were invited to a house with a mystery infestation, particularly without being told. How will you feel if half your family/friends end up with the bites? You might consider asking someone else to host.

posted by vignettist at 2:17 PM on December 23, 2005

As fff said, Hot Tub?

That said, this does not sound scabitic on many levels, but rather another type of insect envenomation, i.e. fleas, mites, etc.
posted by docpops at 2:18 PM on December 23, 2005

For the visually oriented:
posted by daver at 2:41 PM on December 23, 2005

I know it's cold, and has been for a while, but . . . have you visited any places with tall grass? A farm? Been hiking? To a grassy park? Because that sounds a little like chiggers to me. Typically you will get chigger bites at places where your clothes end and skin begins (sock line, waist line, at wrists where your gloves stop, etc). Not sure how your kid would have gotten one on the face (maybe a winter-time face cover?) but they're red, they're itchy like the dickens, and I'm fairly sure you can carry them into your house. This is the least scary picture I could find of chigger bites. Also this one. Whatever it is that you've got, whether it's scabies or chiggers, apparently this stuff will help.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:44 PM on December 23, 2005

I think you have spider mites or spiders of some kind. Those look like spider bites to me as opposed to fleas, which bite your legs, in patterns. Also, I've never heard of anyone without cats or dogs getting fleas, especially in midwinter. I don't know anything about bedbugs but if it's some kind of mite, try this. Get some of that anti lice spray at the drugstore and spray the mattress with it, paying special attention to the seams & corners. Then flip the mattress, spray the other side, and sleep on the flipped mattress. Wash all your bedding in hot water & dry in a hot dryer for at least 40 minutes. That will kill pretty much anything- at least, it will kill head lice, and those little bastards are damn near impossible to get rid of. If all else fails, consider going to a motel for a weekend or more. Sometimes that will do the trick, seriously - the bugs starve while you're gone.
posted by mygothlaundry at 3:15 PM on December 23, 2005

Since they're mostly on you, is it possible that you're bringing them in from somewhere else? Maybe the infestation is dense in your car or at work. Glue traps and double-sided tape EVERYWHERE seems like a good idea.
posted by defreckled at 4:03 PM on December 23, 2005

That looks like chiggers( we call them redbugs here in NC.)

What kind of yard do you have? Have any of you been around pine straw or brush?

In my experience you don't feel chigger bites-later is when they itch.
posted by konolia at 4:22 PM on December 23, 2005

I'm betting that stromectol is effective against all types of mites -- if it can kill Scabies plus a bunch of parasitic worms I bet it'll kill chiggers, spider mites, and any other mite smaller than a lobster.

I'm also betting fleas as most likely, bedbugs after that. Bedbugs just because I've had new 'bites' surface during the day.

Hot-tub-itis (flocular Pseudomonas?) is possible -- we do use a hot tub once a week or so. However, it's a 'club tub' which is so heavily chlorinated that I seriously doubt that's it. Also, since it's once a week and the outbreaks don't seem timed with it, I'm ranking it #3.

#4: ongoing scabies. Waaahh! I don't want it to be this, but I think it might be easier to treat than bed bugs, (although it mite (ha ha) take longer.

#5: allergies. I seriously doubt it. But, who knows.

Ok, going back to mark best answers, Thanks for the tips, especially the glue traps (never would have thought of that myself). Glad to know I wasn't missing anything serious.
posted by daver at 7:11 PM on December 23, 2005

They diagnosed me with scabies too and the treatments never worked. previous thread

My breakouts are a lot rarer these days.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:48 PM on December 23, 2005

I'm guessing chiggers from your photos. The one of your leg and underarm looks *exactly* like mine when I had an unfortunate encounter with these buggers. Only question is why you and your family are getting repeat visits, especially in winter, although perhaps Western (read coastal) Washington state is mild enough for a core population to overwinter? I don't know.

When I had it, oatmeal baths were rather soothing and topical and oral antihistimines helped, but it was hell for a few weeks.
posted by xetere at 9:59 PM on December 23, 2005

I was once wrongly diagnosed with scabies. I suspected it was wrong (the bites weren't typical). I called in an exterminator who found fleas. turned out my damn landlord's yard was pretty infected with fleas.
posted by mirileh at 2:10 AM on December 24, 2005

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