Sand Flea Bites: Treatment and Prevention

The sun, the ocean breeze, the sand, and the sound of waves crashing against the shore would make anyone want to spend all day at the beach. But if you’re not careful, you may have the unpleasant experience of dealing with itchy sand flea bites.

If you get sand flea bites, wash them with soap and water and keep the area clean but if the bites get infected, see a doctor immediately.

Prevention is always better than cure so as much as possible, minimize skin exposure when going to the beach and if it can’t be helped, use a repellant.

What Are Sand Fleas?

Sand fleas are tiny crustaceans that live in the sand near the shoreline. They can be found in all types of sandy areas, including beaches, sand dunes, and even in your backyard.

sand flea on sand

They can bite at any time of day but sand fleas are most active at dawn and dusk. They are attracted to movement, so they will jump onto passing humans or animals in search of a meal.

They are also called beach fleas, jigger fleas, or chigoe fleas. Even though the names indicate that it is a flea, it is surprisingly not.

Sand fleas are not actually fleas. They are more closely related to shrimp and crabs. These critters are crustaceans and they have a hard shell on the outside of their bodies.

They undergo a process called molting. This is where they shed their exoskeleton and grow a new one.

They are difficult to see with the naked eye, but they can be up to six millimeters long. They may vary in color but some are off-white to brown and have a flat, oval-shaped body. They have six legs that are used for jumping.

Sandfleas are known for their jumping ability. They can jump up to seven inches vertically and sixteen inches horizontally.

When they land, they pierce the skin with their mouthparts and begin to feed on blood. If you are laying down on the beach, they may be able to jump onto you from the sand and have bites on your upper body as well.

What Do Sand Flea Bites Look Like?

Sand flea bites look like normal mosquito bites at first, but they can quickly turn into something much worse. They are often very itchy and can become infected if you scratch them.

They may cause severe skin problems. The bites are generally found on the ankles, legs, and feet but can also appear on other body parts depending on where the flea jumped onto you.

They may appear in a line or cluster and can be painful. In some cases, sand flea bites may blister or swell.

If you have an allergic reaction to the bite, you may experience more severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, hives, or swelling of the face or throat.

close up of female sand flea

Some sand flea bites symptoms may include itching, redness, and swelling. You also need to watch out for any sign of infection, such as pus or increasing redness and swelling.

Different Types of Sand Flea Bites

There are two different types. The first one appears to look like a mosquito bite because they suck your blood and then move on to another host. They inject their saliva while feeding and this may cause an allergic reaction.

The second type of sand flea bite is worse and is caused by the female species of sand flea that burrows into the skin. This type of bite is very painful and can cause a serious infection.

The female sand flea will burrow into the skin to lay her eggs. She will then die and the larva will hatch and begin to feed on your blood.

These bites are more common in tropical areas but can occur anywhere there are sand fleas present.

Sand Flea Bites Health Risks

Sand flea bites can actually pose a threat to your health. The bites can become infected, especially if you scratch them. This can lead to a bacterial infection, a tetanus diagnosis, or gangrene.

If the bite becomes infected, you may experience fever, chills, and swollen lymph nodes. In extreme situations, amputation of toes may be required as a result of a sand flea bite.

In some cases, sand flea bites can transmit diseases such as tungiasis and leishmaniasis.

Allergic Reaction

If you are allergic to sand flea bites, symptoms may become more severe. An allergic reaction can cause anaphylactic shock, which can be life-threatening.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, hives, and swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and throat.

Bacterial Infection

When the female sand flea burrows into the skin, it creates an opening and can put you at risk of contracting infections. Severe scratching may also break the skin leaving it open for bacteria to develop. This may cause swelling, fever, or pus leaking from the bite.

Tungiasis

This is a disease found in tropical and subtropical countries. It is caused by a female sand flea that embeds itself in the skin. The sand flea then lays eggs and the cycle begins again.

Tungiasis can cause itching, burning, pain, and inflammation. In extreme cases, it can lead to secondary infections that can be life-threatening.

Repeated infections may disfigure and result in amputation of the feet, eventually leading to impaired mobility.

Leishmaniasis

Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by parasites that are transmitted by sand fleas. The disease is found in tropical and subtropical countries.

Cutaneous leishmaniasis and visceral leishmaniasis are the most common forms. The first one causes skin sores and the latter may affect several internal organs such as the spleen, liver, and bone marrow.

For cutaneous leishmaniasis, skin sores may develop within a few weeks or months while people with visceral leishmaniasis usually become sick within months from the time they were bitten.

Cutaneous leishmaniasis skin sores heal on their own in most cases, even without treatment. However, they may take months or even years to heal and leave unsightly scars. On the other hand, severe cases of visceral leishmaniasis are fatal.

There is no vaccine for leishmaniasis and there is no cure. Treatment focuses on relieving the symptoms and preventing the disease from spreading.

How to Treat Sand Flea Bites?

The best way to treat sand flea bites is to avoid them altogether. But if you do get bitten, there are some things you can do to ease the itchiness and discomfort.

Avoid scratching the bites as it will only irritate your skin further and this can increase the risk of infection. Excessive scratching can also lead to scars.

It’s important to clean the area well and keep it clean. This will help prevent infection and will also help the bites heal more quickly.

Gently washing the area with soap and water is usually enough and this will help remove any bacteria that may be on your skin. Check the bites for breeding sand fleas. If you find any, remove them with tweezers.

Apply a cold compress to the bites to reduce swelling and use calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream to reduce inflammation.

You can also take an antihistamine if the itching is really bad. Some people use aloe vera gel and oatmeal baths to soothe the itching. Essential oils may also help get rid of the uneasiness.

If the bites become infected, see a doctor immediately. You may need antibiotics or other medication to clear the infection.

How to Prevent Sand Flea Bites?

Prevention is always better than cure so take steps to avoid getting bitten by sand fleas. The best way to prevent sand flea bites is to avoid areas where they are known to live.

If you are going to be in an area where sand fleas are present, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of being bitten.

By taking some simple precautions, you can avoid being bitten by sand fleas and the disease they carry.

  • Minimize the amount of exposed skin. Wear protective clothing such as long pants and long-sleeved shirts when you are in areas where sand fleas are present.
  • As much as possible, avoid walking barefoot on beaches or sandy areas where sand fleas may be present. If you must walk in these areas, wear shoes or sandals to protect your feet.
  • Avoid the beach after it has rained. Sand fleas breed in damp sand and are more active after it rains.
  • Be aware of where you sit or lie down. Sand fleas can jump so avoid sitting or lying on the ground in areas where they are present. If you must sit or lie down, use a blanket or towel to protect your skin from contact with the sand.
  • Be sure to shake out any towels, blankets, or clothing that may have been in contact with sand fleas before using them.
human shaking towel at the beach
  • Wear light-colored clothing so that you can see the fleas more easily and remove them before they bite.
  • Use insect repellent on your skin and clothes. Repellents that contain DEET and coconut oil are most effective.

Can Sand Fleas Travel Home with You?

Because sand fleas prefer to stay in their sandy environments, it’s unlikely they will travel home with you. However, if you have been in an area where sand fleas are present, be sure to check your clothing and gear for any that may be clinging to them.

Shake out any towels or blankets before using them and wash any clothing that may have come into contact with sand fleas.

Final Thoughts

Being informed is half the battle, so it’s important to know about sand fleas and their troublesome bites.

Sand fleas are usually found on beaches in tropical and subtropical climates and their bites can be painful and itchy and may sometimes be life-threatening.

Preventing sand fleas from biting you on the beach is easier than treating them, so take precautions to avoid being bitten.