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How Do I Treat Sand Flea Bites?

By M. Haskins
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Sand flea bites usually show up as small, red welts or bumps on the skin, and most commonly occur on the lower legs, feet and ankles of humans and animals. In addition to the welts, the bites can cause severe itching, swelling, and sometimes pain in the affected area. These can normally be treated with over-the-counter medications like oral ibuprofen, to help reduce the swelling and pain, and oral antihistamines to help reduce the itching. One can also use various medicated topical treatments directly on the affected area, such as ibuprofen gel, hydrocortisone cream, or various anti-itch creams. It is important to avoid scratching sand flea bites, since this can lead to infection, and if the pain and itching do not begin to improve after several days, one should consult a doctor.

Anti-itch creams and gels containing ingredients that reduce pain, such as lidocaine, can be helpful when treating sand flea bites. In addition to such over-the-counter medications, there are also many natural remedies that can relieve symptoms. For example, an oatmeal soak, where the affected area is submerged in warm water mixed with oatmeal, can help soothe the itching. Applying aloe vera gel, vinegar, or a paste made of water and baking soda to the affected area can also help ease the discomfort. Other natural treatments involve the application of various essential oils such as tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, and lavender oil to the bites.

Different types of creatures can be referred to as sand fleas. For example, certain species of biting flies are sometimes called sand fleas. These insects infest certain beaches around the world, including in the United States, Australia and the Caribbean. They can carry disease and transmit viruses. It is recommended to use insect repellent when frequenting areas where these insects are common.

Another type of creature called sand flea is a species of tiny crustacean that lives in the sand or decaying seaweed on beaches. Children can be more likely to be bitten by these sand fleas when they play and dig in the sand. Sand flea bites on a human or pet can also be caused by a species of flea with the scientific name Tunga penetrans, commonly known as chigoe or sand flea. This skin parasite burrows into the skin to lay its eggs. It usually causes more severe problems for animals, and the recommended treatment of these types bites on a pet includes flea treatments such as flea powders and shampoos.

What Are Sand Fleas?

There is often some confusion about what sand fleas are. Four vastly different creatures regularly bear the title. To further the uncertainty, each type of creature has several common names.


When many people say sand flea, they are referring to sandflies. The name sandfly includes several species of flying and blood-sucking insects. While the coloration of sandflies can range from golden to gray, you can expect the insect to be around 3 mm long, have long mouthparts, and have vertical V-shaped wings. The type you encounter varies depending on the region of the world you are in.

In the United States, you will find new world sandflies. They can be found in sandy regions from New Jersey to Florida. The female flies must feed on blood to reproduce, so they are known for biting. Flies can contribute to the spread of blood-borne diseases in both animals and humans.


Chigoes are called the "true" sand flea. They are parasitic fleas that embed into their host's skin. Before finding a host, chigoes are only 1 mm long. After entering their host, they may grow to the size of a pea.

The distribution of chigoes is limited to tropical and subtropical regions. Most commonly, they are found in Mexico, South America, and Africa. However, they can occasionally be found in the southernmost parts of the United States.

 Sand Hoppers

Some tiny crustaceans in the family Talitridae are referred to as sand hoppers or sand fleas. While they are not true fleas, they earned their name due to frequent jumping. Coloration varies by species, but the appearance is similar to a tiny shrimp.

Different species of sand hoppers are found around the world, including coastal areas of the United States. While they routinely feed on seaweed and other plants, they will also feed human blood given the opportunity. Humans who are present on beaches at dawn and dusk or are digging in the sand are the most likely targets.

 Mole Crabs

A biologist may inform you that a sand flea is another name for a mole crab or sand crab. Mole crabs are small crustaceans that are between 0.6 cm and 2.5 cm long. The gray, green, or brown arthropods have a rough exoskeleton and feathery antennae.

These harmless creatures have a wide distribution. They can be found burrowed into the sandy surf zone of beaches along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States. Unlike their other namesakes, mole crabs do not bite people. In some areas, humans eat this type of sand flea and use them as fishing bait.

 What Do Sand Flea Bites Look Like?

The appearance of sand flea bites depends on which variety of "flea" is to blame. Sandflies and sand hoppers are the most probable culprits in the United States.

 Sandfly Bites

Sandfly bites may get mistaken for mosquito bites. The flies are most likely to swarm and bite during dawn and dusk. While mosquitoes leave behind a red, itchy bump, sandflies leave smaller clustered marks. Bites are most common on your head and hands and may be accompanied by a rash and fever.

 Sand Hopper Bites

Sand hopper bites are similar in appearance to regular flea bites. You may see clusters of two to three bumps per location surrounded by a red halo. The location of bites is limited because sand hoppers cannot jump high. If you are standing, bites will appear on your legs, ankles, and feet. When individuals lay down, they may experience bites anywhere on their bodies.

 How Long Do Sand Flea Bites Last?

Regardless of the type of sand flea, the duration of the bite can vary. Marks typically last for only a few hours to many days. If an infection accompanies the bite, the effects will last much longer. The difference depends on your body and how you treat the bites.


One of the reasons people respond differently to sand flea bites is allergens. When you are bit by any type of sand flea, saliva enters your body. If you have an allergic reaction to the saliva, you will have worse swelling and longer-lasting effects.


Scratching your bites can prolong your reaction. You may further irritate the area and break the skin. When you damage your skin, it takes longer to heal and opens the door for secondary infections.


Treating your bites quickly and properly can decrease the length of time you have them. Taking anti-inflammatories and anti-histamines can decrease swelling. Applying topical ointments can relieve itching and help prevent infection allowing for quicker healing.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon995090 — On Mar 31, 2016

Instant cure! I had bites all over me from Mexico and tried aloe vera with lidocaine, Listerine spray, hydrocortisone cream, Vicks, everything. I was being eaten alive and the creams just seemed to make it worse. It's like they put a protective layer on top to allow them to lay eggs.

Then, I thought: cold and dry are their enemy. I took a blow-dryer and blow dried my skin over the welts and bits for about a half an hour, and let it itch to bring the little guys to a frenzy. Then, I jumped into an ice bath.

Instant relief! That killed them. Then, I used Gold Bond foot powder to stop the itching.

Worked like a charm. The swelling went down immediately. I can now sleep again and concentrate at work.

By anon978854 — On Nov 21, 2014

Oil of oregano works well on all bites.

By anon974825 — On Oct 21, 2014

I have nearly 1000 bites after sitting near a lake in central FL - all exposed skin on legs and arms were bitten and itched terribly. I tried all types of treatments including lidocaine, aloe, cortisone cream, etc. Then I remembered I had some Signature Skin revitalizing moisturizer that worked wonders on Rosacea, and I figured it was worth a try. Immediate relief! Worth its price three times over.

By andee — On Dec 14, 2011

@bagley79 - I also learned the hard way what sand fleas are. Now anytime I am going to have my skin exposed around sand, I make sure I put something on ahead of time.

What works best for me is to use lavender essential oil. They must not like the smell of the lavender because I have never had any problems since using this.

I just apply this straight from the bottle like I would any lotion or cream. Since oil and water don't mix, the oil stays on my skin for awhile and is not washed away when I get in the water.

If you have ever seen pictures of sand flea bites, some of them look pretty severe. Mine weren't real bad, but the itching was worse than anything.

I would much rather try to prevent them from biting than treating them after the fact. The lavender smells much nicer than insect repellent, so that is nice too.

By bagley79 — On Dec 14, 2011

Sand fleas must have been what bit my kids when we took a vacation to the beach. They spent hours along the shore building sand castles and making all kinds of sand creations.

Later that night they had red, itchy bumps all over their feet and ankles. I figured they had some kind of insect bites, but had never heard of sand fleas before.

When we travel, I always carry some antibiotic cream with me. After they showered, I had them apply it and it helped with the itching.

If this happens again, I will know what they are. I wonder if there is any way to prevent this, or do you just treat it after they bite you?

By burcinc — On Dec 13, 2011

@feruze-- It might be sand fleas. You should check out sand flea bites pictures to compare.

I used to get bit by sand fleas whenever we went fishing with my dad. I had gotten pretty used to them.

Washing with soapy water is a really good idea. If you keep baking soda with you, you can make a nice paste of it by mixing it with water and put it on the bite. It really helps with the swelling. If you have access to ice, applying ice is also good.

This is what I generally did after a fishing trip. I would also apply calamine lotion throughout the day until the symptoms went away which even lasted more than a week for me at times.

Oh and try not to itch the bites because that makes the swelling much worse and you also risk an infection. If it gets infected, you might want to apply an antibacterial ointment as well.

By bear78 — On Dec 13, 2011

Oh wow, I wonder if these are the bugs that bite me sometimes while I'm swimming in the sea?

Every summer, I go to our beach house and swim every day. On some days, I feel some things bite me while I'm in the water. It itches very badly for hours. I never knew what they were, but I think it might be sand fleas, if they exist in water as well.

What I usually do is wash the area with lots of soapy water and then apply some antihistamine cream on it for the itching. That usually does the trick and itching goes away in several hours. But I have had it where the pain and itch lasted a couple of days.

It's really annoying and sometimes the topical cream is not enough. I've never tried any of the homemade treatments like vinegar or baking soda but I will the next time I get them.

Do you know any other easy homemade treatments for sand flea bites that I can apply right after getting bit? Especially something that helps with itching and pain?

By turquoise — On Dec 12, 2011

I have a really great over-the-counter topical medication. It's basically aloe vera gel with added lidocaine in it. It's fantastic for bug bites, especially sand flea bites.

My daughter had them last summer on the beach and I thankfully had this topical gel with me. Within minutes of applying, she stopped crying and said that it felt much better.

Aloe vera is already really soothing and cooling to the skin. The added lidocaine helps relieve the pain and itching so it's like an all in one treatment. The next day the bumps from the sand flea bites were gone and it was like nothing happened. I just love this topical treatment.

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