Itchy bumps on the skin can cause discomfort, embarrassment, and confusion. Although the bumps may sometimes resemble mosquito bites, there are numerous possible causes other than bug bites.
Most people experience this symptom at some point. Itchy bumps can appear as a result of allergies, infections, insects, and, sometimes, nonidentified factors.
However, there is one general principle that the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommend people to follow when their skin itches: Do not scratch it.
Additional general self-care practices for itchy skin include:
- bathing frequently in lukewarm water
- using gentle, hypoallergenic soap
- limiting exposure to the sun
- applying cold compresses
- avoiding tight clothing in areas where itchy bumps appear
Understanding the different conditions that can cause itchy bumps on the skin can help people get appropriate treatment. Depending on the cause, treatment can range from avoiding certain foods to taking prescription medications.
Keep reading to learn more about some common causes of itchy bumps that look like mosquito bites and how to treat them.
The medical term for hives is urticaria, and it describes a condition that produces raised itchy areas on the skin. If a person notices bumps on the skin that resemble mosquito bites but has not had any exposure to mosquitos, the cause is probably acute urticaria. The term “acute” means that the condition does not last longer than 6 weeks.
Hives are very common, affecting about 20% of people at some point in their lives. Certain kinds of foods, such as peanuts, tree nuts, and seafood, cause hives in many people due to an allergic reaction. Latex, pollen, insects, various plants, and some medications, such as sulfa drugs or even aspirin, may also cause hives.
Hives cause characteristic red, purple, or skin colored itchy bumps that appear and disappear quickly anywhere on the body. These bumps typically turn white or disappear when a person presses them.
The treatment for hives depends on the severity and cause of the rash, but it includes avoiding known triggers. People who are extremely allergic to a trigger — for example, peanuts or certain insects — may need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector, such as an Epipen. This device can stop a potentially life threatening reaction if a person has accidental contact with a known allergen.
Anti-itching lotions and over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines can provide relief for mild symptoms, while more intense outbreaks may require stronger prescription versions of these drugs or corticosteroids.
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People who notice itchy bumps on the skin that resemble mosquito bites should check for:
- other signs of bed bugs
- bed bugs themselves on a mattress or sheet
- dead bed bugs
- blood spots on a mattress or sheet
- the characteristic musty smell associated with bed bugs
If the bites appear in a straight line, they are likely to be due to bed bugs. However, bed bug bugs can also appear in more random formations.
Unless someone has a severe allergic reaction, experts recommend simple self-care practices to treat any bites. These include not scratching, applying OTC antiseptic ointments, and taking antihistamines.
Contact dermatitis is essentially an allergic reaction that develops when a person’s skin comes into contact with something to which they are allergic, such as latex or certain metals or household products.
It can take 1–2 days for the reaction to develop and 2–3 weeks for symptoms to disappear. Contact dermatitis may hurt as much as it itches, and it may present with inflammation and blisters.
Self-care with cold compresses, calamine lotion, and soothing baths can help provide relief.
Prescription medication, such as antihistamines and cortisone, may be necessary if the reaction is severe.
Working with healthcare professionals can help people identify their triggers, which can be complicated.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, there are more than 3,700 substances known to cause contact allergies. Avoiding triggers is a key part of managing contact dermatitis, along with thoroughly washing the affected area with soap and water after exposure happens.
The human itch mite is responsible for scabies. This mite digs its way through the top layer of the skin and lays eggs. Its tunnels can sometimes be visible on the surface of the skin, where they appear as raised, crooked, skin colored lines. However, the most common symptom of scabies is itchy bumps on the skin. These are like mosquito bites, only smaller.
Sites of the body that this very itchy condition commonly affects include the wrists, the elbows, between the fingers, and behind the knees.
Only a prescription lotion will treat scabies effectively, and individuals need to follow the application directions exactly. Anyone who has had extensive skin-to-skin contact with someone with scabies should also seek treatment.
It is very important that people with scabies thoroughly wash and dry all of their clothes, towels, sheets, bedding, and other household items. Other remedies for scabies may also help.
Also known as atopic dermatitis, this common condition causes itchy, red, irritated skin that can sometimes develop bumps. In the long term, it can make the skin thicker, scaly, and flaky, as well as causing it to change color.
Scratching makes eczema worse and increases the risk of infection. Eczema occurs due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, which prompt the immune system to overreact to certain triggers, such as laundry soap or sweating. It typically affects the face, elbows, knees, scalp, and backs of the hands.
According to the National Eczema Association, treating eczema calls for a mix of self-care, OTC drugs, and prescription medications. People with eczema can identify and learn to manage or avoid triggers for their outbreaks.
Changing bathing practices and using moisturizer can also help. Prescription lotions, systemic medications, UVB light, and biologics can address more severe symptoms.
Skin problems, such as itchy bumps on the skin similar to mosquito bites, can range from mild to severe.
Some issues, including bed bug bites, can be fleeting, while others, such as allergic reactions to certain foods, are signs of a permanent condition. However, most skin problems generally respond well to treatment.
If the symptoms do not improve with self-care practices, people should see a medical professional to determine what is causing the outbreak and how to treat it.