How long do flea bites last?

Summary

After a flea bites, skin in the area immediately rises (wheals). The wheal fades in a few hours. Within 24 hours, an itchy papule (welt) appears. It begins waning after 48-72 hours, and is completely gone within a week. Scratching a flea bite will delay the healing time.

Details

Immediate Reactions: 2-4 hours

Wheals

Whealing occurs immediately after a flea bites. A wheal is an area of elevated skin that’s sometimes surrounded by reddening. The reaction is slightly itchy, but it fades quickly and doesn’t cause much irritation. The inflammation peaks within a few hours, and is completely gone 12 hours later.

Delayed Reactions: 2-7 days

Papules

A papule replaces the wheal 12 to 24 hours after the bite. A papule is a hard, raised bump. It can be red and swollen. Papules are extremely itchy, reaching their maximum intensity 24 hours following the bite. Papules begin waning on day two, and are often barely recognizable by the third day. Sometimes the lesion persists for 2 weeks. After fading, a pale red mark remains for around a week.

Blisters

Occasionally, allergic individuals experience a more extreme delayed reaction. In these cases, blisters (bullae) form on the second or third days. The reaction peaks 72 hours after the bite.

Secondary Infections: 4-6 weeks

Rubbing flea bites can re-trigger whealing and extend the healing time. Scratching the lesions can break open skin, release fluid, and cause crusting. This frequently leads to a secondary infection. When a flea bite gets infected, the lesion fills with pus and takes the form of a pustule or boil. The infection heals over 4 to 6 weeks, but skin remains discolored for longer.

Rare Circumstances: up to 2 years

Prolonged Effects

Some individuals are more sensitive to flea bites than others. Bites typically only persist for a few days. However, sometimes they last for weeks or months. In rare cases, there can be a prolonged effect that lasts a year or two. These bites are sometimes misdiagnosed as benign or cancerous lesions.

Immunity

Other individuals, who are regularly exposed to fleas, may not react at all to the bites. Those with immunity only see a slight reddening of the skin, and this fades within a few minutes. However, the red puncture mark lasts for 3 to 4 days.

References

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Discussion

  • Lou Ann March 15, 2017, 4:59 pm

    I got multiple flea bites Feb 9th and 10th. The itching was intense and also burned. It subsided after about 2 weeks and most of the red welts are going away but it has been 5 weeks and now the itching is coming back again. I use 1% cortisone cream but admit I still scratch and rub them. Should I be doing something else?

    • Adam Retzer March 17, 2017, 6:06 pm

      You may want to consider going to clinic. Flea bites should have healed by 5 weeks and should not be itchy. I’m not a medical professional and am not sure what could cause this, but something else may be going on.

  • Talita July 6, 2017, 5:32 pm

    I’ve got several flea bites 1 month ago and they all healed but on certain spots looks like they are coming back. Would that be possible or it’s probably new bites at the same spot? I’ve treated all my house and my dog. I vacuum every single day and I don’t see them anymore. Could that be a delay reaction because my skin is very sensitive? Thank you!

    • Adam Retzer July 30, 2017, 1:52 pm

      My guess would be that they are new bites. However, bites can become re-inflamed if they are scratched or rubbed. And, as stated in the article, sometimes people have rare, prolonged reactions.

  • Loretta Ingram September 24, 2017, 9:13 pm

    I have a indoor cat for over 3 years my daughter had let her outside. Since then she had been scratching. I have been breaking out in little red bumps and itching. Now I am a diabetic which take me longer to heal. Now I am breaking breaking out all over. What shall I do?

    • Adam Retzer September 29, 2017, 1:03 pm

      The first step is to positively identify that the cat has fleas, as the itchy skin reaction could be caused by something else. To identifying fleas is done by discovering adult fleas or their feces on the cat. Flea feces (dirt) is easier to find, since it doesn’t move around. Flea dirt will appear as tiny black specks in the cat’s fur. It’s composed of dried host blood, and will smear into a red color on a damp cloth.

      Once you’re certain that fleas are the issue, head over to our page on How to get rid of fleas for comprehensive control information.

  • Elizabeth November 15, 2017, 12:39 pm

    Flea bites definitely do not go away within a week. I have flea bites from when our cat first had fleas over a month ago- they are still there and have not healed. Maybe it is because I am pregnant and my skin is dry but these bites are going nowhere fast. Plus, we’ve treated the cat, give him flea baths, and vacuum multiple times a week, yet the fleas still aren’t gone. I have bites all over – no one else in my home does.

  • Jordan December 8, 2017, 9:16 pm

    I got a flea but near my nether region. And I scratched it. Now my skin is crusting. And I think fading away but where the bumps were are now purplish skin. And now the bumps moved to the opposite side of my nether region. I use a anti itch cream.

  • Amrit June 4, 2018, 3:23 am

    I got flea bites after i moved the house and previous owner had a cat. We sprayed all over the property. My legs ankles were bitten madly by fleas all over. It started from the month of feb and its june m still on healing process. Its been months i have new bites but the old one are taking so long to heal. Itching drives me crazy. Literally skin pains in ankle areas. Cnt resist scratching and always end up reopening the bite wounds. Many of them healed some still going on. Not sure whatmore to apply used antiseptic and anti itch cream which is no good. Good luck everyone with healing…

  • nadia October 18, 2018, 2:20 pm

    I have flare ups of old flea bites, will be a year this november.
    I put cream on them prescribed by my dermatologist but they stil flare up.
    I also have low grade non-hogkins cancer. stage 0 so far. I am not being treated on
    chemo as it is stable.
    Do you think these flare ups will stop soon? I also take claritan daily. to relieve itch.

    • Adam Retzer October 21, 2018, 12:41 pm

      Nadia, your body seems to have an unusual reaction to the bites. Unfortunately, I can’t help much. This is an issue for a dermatologist.

  • Carole March 12, 2019, 3:39 pm

    A stray adult cat moved in with us. I started taking B1 to ward off the bites, which was working wonderfully. Then I stopped taking prior to an out patient surgery on 3/4. Now I have like 15 flea bites. I believe I started getting them on 3/5 or 3/6. The itching is still extreme. I restarted taking the B1 on 3/7 and doesn’t seem to be working…Help..

    • Adam Retzer March 13, 2019, 1:49 pm

      The fleas won’t go away on their own. You will continue to get bites until the infestation is gone. Please see our page on how to get rid of fleas. To prevent bites, insect repellents are effective against fleas, such as a DEET lotion. You can also use permethrin clothing repellent on shoes, socks, and pants to help deter fleas. It’s also a good idea to wear long socks and pants, and tuck the pant legs into the socks.

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