What is biting me?
May 12, 2019 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I wake up in the morning with what appear to be itchy bites of some kind. Husband has not gotten any bites. No visible signs of bed bugs. Help!

Every morning for the past week or so, I have woken up with what appear to be new itchy bug bites of some kind. I have a history of my skin reacting weirdly to stress so this may be psychosomatic. Any thoughts or ideas would be appreciated.

Facts that may or may not be relevant:
-Last week my husband tore the bedroom apart looking for bedbugs. He checked along the seams of the mattress, in the joints of the bed, in my bedside lamp, the heater behind the bed, found nothing. We couldn't really look for what the internet says is typical, reddish brown stains, because we had red sheets on at the time. He put a set of light grey sheets on the bed and we've been checking them every morning. No stains, no crushed bugs, no signs of bug fecal matter, nothing. Sheets are totally clean.
-Husband has not experienced a single bite.
-Bites are, generally speaking, not clustered together. At one point I had three sort of in a row, which freaked me out because that can apparently be a sign of bedbugs, but that has not recurred. With that exception, none of the bites are really near the others.
-I have had some develop during the day, but it's hard to tell if they're new or if I just hadn't noticed them previously.
-Bites are mostly, but not entirely, on legs and torso. They don't seem to have a ton of correlation between areas where I am covered at night and areas where I am not. Last night I wore long pajama pants and a t-shirt to bed and woke up with one on each foot, one on one elbow, and one on my ribcage. At least two of the previous bites are, shall we say, in an area that is always covered by underwear.
-Bites have a definite raised bump, but if I don't scratch, there is no other skin reaction, no red or raised areas around them.
-If I get super itchy, taking Benadryl does help.
-The last time we stayed at a hotel was about a month ago. We have not bought any new furniture in many months. I have not recently switched detergents, soap, or anything like that.
-Husband works from home, so he is here most of the time. I work in an office, so 5 days a week I'm out of the house on the bus or at work.
-It has been warm here in the past week and we have started opening our windows and the sliding door on our patio. They do have screens on them.
-We are in the process of getting ready to move, so house is not as clean as it could be and a lot of dust has been stirred up as we move stuff around.
-In the past in the spring we have wondered if we periodically have fleas showing up from somewhere - in prior years our cat (who passed away last year) would often have what appear to be flea reactions around this time of year. We do live in a very crowded apartment building.
-We know our building has rats - one of them turned up in our kitchen a couple weeks ago.
-I do have a history of reacting physically to stress, including itching, and I'm more stressed out than I've been in a very long time. My immune system is probably at an all-time low, I'm sleeping very poorly, and stress eating like crazy. I have another condition where flare-ups can be caused by stress, and I just had the first flare-up I've had in 6+ years. It's not uncommon for me to experience severe itching all over my legs when stressed, especially if I'm wearing tight jeans. This usually leaves bright red patches on my legs that fade after a day or so. Benadryl and switching to a pair of looser pants usually helps alleviate this.

This is really starting to wear on me, wondering what is going on, lying awake at night wondering if something is going to start crawling on me. Every new itch or tickle I get is immediately assumed to be a bug. Honestly the best case scenario is that it is in my head and I'm stressing myself into bug bites somehow - I would far rather this be the answer than bedbugs.
posted by skycrashesdown to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I had a problem on my legs like this in a previous residence with waking up with itchy, distinct bumps - I was convinced that the house had spiders, turned out it was staph. Have you been to a dermatologist?
posted by Selena777 at 10:33 AM on May 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

I hope that it isn't bedbugs, but FWIW, some percentage of the population doesn't react to bedbug bites (I know someone who only discovered he had them when his girlfriend slept over and got bitten up--he was bite-free.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:53 AM on May 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

I have a habit of breaking into stress hives - most often in the evening or after I'm in bed - that present very similarly to your description, and it's worse if it's also allergy season (which it very much is right now). I added a zyrtec to my nighttime routine and it's been significantly better. You might try 5-9 days of routine antihistamine and see if anything gets better or worse.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:56 AM on May 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

I also hope that it's not bedbugs, but years ago in our household of 5, only one of us reacted to the bites at all. I even checked for them multiple times, but since I had no experience in what I really needed to look for, I missed finding them for a long time. Typical internet advice was not helpful, there were no signs; the bedbugs were actually located under wooden baseboards and packed inside very tight cracks and glued seams of a wooden bed frame which I would not have imagined bugs could fit into and would not have found had I not levered and pulled it all completely apart and used a flashlight. They were also found inside the couches on the wooden frame.
posted by OnefortheLast at 11:14 AM on May 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

During the months when we had (what turned out to be) bedbugs in the house, my husband never (showed) a single bite. Only me; and towards the end I think one of my kids had one. And we'd searched diligently for signs and never found any for months. So much so that I posted here wondering what the hell it could be. I thought it could have been some sort of mite. (And by the way I run a scrupulously clean house; we realized later we had brought them home from a trip taken months prior.)

In the end, I found ONE bug (on a window shade, of all the places.) A sniffer dog also confirmed (not that I had any doubt; I'd seen the bug.)

Which is to say: it being just you showing the bites means nothing, and not seeing evidence for months means nothing. If you really want to be sure, bring in a sniffer dog. Then once you're sure it's not bedbugs you can figure out what it is. (Or of course, if it is bedbugs, then you'll know what to do.)

By the way, a dermatologist, even a top of the line one, can determine if something is an arthropod bite (as opposed to a reaction or an infection etc) but cannot determine what kind of arthropod it is (they may think they can -- I had one guy misdiagnose my bites in fact -- but they can't.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:44 AM on May 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

I had a similar problem a few years back. Irritated skin bumps in clusters all over, itched like hell, but nothing on my partner and no signs of bedbugs. Our working theory (probably found from this 2013 Ask) is carpet beetle irritation. A thorough vacuuming under the bed along with bagging up all our fur and wool clothing (food sources) seemed to stop the issue.
posted by Wulfhere at 12:01 PM on May 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

Some people react to fleas and others don’t. Bites mostly on your legs (I know you said torso too) are consistent with fleas. I would look into that possibility.
posted by amy.g.dala at 12:14 PM on May 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Even if you don't think it's bedbugs, you could buy a bedbug cover for your mattress and launder your bedding (on high heat 20 minutes) to see if it makes a difference. If it does you are just not seeing the problem. It may not, but it's way cheeper than getting a bedbug sniffing dog to your house, and bonus your matress is covered for any potential future infestation issues.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:49 PM on May 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

My parents had a cat that brought in fleas (despite treatment). I’d get many horrible bites (mostly at night) that took weeks to heal while neither my parents, the cat, nor other guests showed signs of being bitten. I caught the elusive fleas a few times so was able to confirm the cause. The problem only went away after the cat did, and even then on the visit months after he was gone i was bitten because young fleas can lie dormant for a long time waiting for an animal to attack, despite the house being clean and thoroughly vacuumed.
posted by D.C. at 5:49 PM on May 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm going to second the suggestion that this may be Carpet Beetles. It's pretty common for people to have carpet beetles in their house and never react to them until they're under a lot of stress and their body's cortisol and histamine levels are high. Do you have anything made from real animal hair around? A wool blanket or many alpacca fur throw or something? Carpet beetles love eating things made from real animal products. I think the carpet beetles we had several years ago came in a basket we bought from World Market.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:23 PM on May 12, 2019

We went through a bedbug panic when my daughter had what she thought were bug bites. A trip to a specialist produced a diagnosis of hives, and a course of antihistamines ended the problem.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:51 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

My skin reacts in exactly the way you’re describing if I drink alcohol more than one day in a row. It’s worse with beer than it is with wine. If your increase in stress is linked to an increase in booze, maybe try cutting it out for a couple days and see if your skin calms down?
posted by coppermoss at 4:27 AM on May 13, 2019

Response by poster: Update: we literally took the bed frame apart yesterday, and the bookshelves by the bed. Went over everything with a flashlight. Nothing. It seems weird that I could be getting bit as much as I am and there’s not a single stain, not a single blood spot on the sheets, not a single bug shell or identifiable bit of fecal matter. But! We do have carpet beetles it turns out, we found several in cobwebs behind the bookshelf. So maybe that is the culprit?
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:06 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Every time we've gotten fleas (twice from my SIL's dog, once from squirrels taking up residence in the attic), I've gotten covered with bites and my husband had none. If your carpet beetle angle doesn't work out, I'd consider fleas, especially since you have enough rat presence that you've seen one in the residence.
posted by telophase at 12:25 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

You can get these sticky pads with a light bulb that will attract and trap bugs which might help you identify any other insect culprits. We used them in our living room and dining room when our indoor cats came down with fleas. They lived for a few months after the cat left the house. Regular treatment of boric acid and a thorough vacuum finally killed them off.
posted by soelo at 8:00 PM on May 13, 2019

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