Several skin conditions can cause itchy lumps that resemble bug bites. These include allergic reactions, infections, and chronic conditions.
Most people experience this symptom at some point. Itchy bumps can appear due to allergies, infections, insect bites, and, sometimes, nonidentified factors.
However, the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends against scratching when someone’s skin itches.
Additional general self-care practices for itchy skin include:
- bathing frequently in lukewarm water
- using gentle, hypoallergenic soap
- limiting sun exposure
- 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, which describes a condition involving raised, itchy areas on the skin. If a person notices bumps on the skin resembling mosquito bites but has not had any mosquito exposure, the cause is probably acute urticaria. The term “acute” means that the condition does not last longer than 6 weeks.
Hives is very common, affecting about 20% of people at some point in their lives. Certain kinds of foods, such as peanuts and seafood, cause hives in many due to allergic reactions. 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 life threatening reaction if someone comes into contact with a known allergen.
Anti-itching lotions and over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines can relieve 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 on a mattress or sheet
- dead bed bugs
- blood spots on a mattress or sheet
- the characteristic musty smell relating to bed bugs
If the bites appear in a straight line, they are likely to be due to bed bugs. However, bed bug bites 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 avoiding scratching, applying OTC antiseptic ointments, and taking antihistamines.
Learn more about bed bug bites.
Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction that develops when a person’s skin comes into contact with an allergen, such as latex, certain metals, or household products.
Self-care with cold compresses, calamine lotion, and soothing baths can help provide relief.
If the reaction is severe, prescription medication, such as antihistamines and cortisone, may be necessary.
Working with healthcare professionals can help people identify their triggers, which can be complicated.
Learn more about contact dermatitis.
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 similar to mosquito bites, only smaller.
This itchy condition commonly affects the wrists, the elbows, between the fingers, and behind the knees.
Only a prescription lotion will treat scabies effectively, and individuals must follow the application directions exactly. Anyone with 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.
Eczema is known as atopic dermatitis, a common condition that causes itchy, red or purple, irritated skin that can sometimes develop bumps. In the long term, it can make the skin thicker, scaly, and flaky and cause 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 also identify and learn to manage or avoid triggers.
Changing bathing practices and using a moisturizer can also help. Prescription lotions, systemic medications, UVB light, and biologics can address more severe symptoms.
Learn about the different types of eczema.
Itchy bumps, similar to mosquito bites, can range from mild to severe.
Some issues, including bed bug bites, can be temporary, while others, such as allergic reactions to certain foods, can indicate a permanent condition. However, most skin problems generally respond well to treatment.
If the symptoms do not improve with self-care practices, people need to consult a medical professional to determine what is causing the outbreak and how to treat it.