Bed Bug Bites How Do You Know

Bedbugs

Bedbugs are small insects that often live on furniture or bedding. Their bites can be itchy, but do not usually cause other health problems.

Check if it’s bedbugs

Jeff March / Alamy Stock Photo

Bedbugs can hide in many places, including on bed frames, mattresses, clothing, furniture, behind pictures and under loose wallpaper.

Signs of bedbugs include:

  • bites – often on areas exposed while sleeping, like the face, neck and arms
  • spots of blood on your bedding – from the bites or from squashing a bedbug
  • small brown spots on bedding or furniture (bedbug poo)

Bedbug bites can be red and itchy. They’re often in a line or cluster.

Otto Pleska / Alamy Stock Photo

Some people have a reaction to the bites. They can be very itchy and there may be painful swelling.

How you can treat bedbug bites

Bedbug bites usually clear up on their own in a week or so.

Things you can do include:

  • putting something cool, like a clean, damp cloth, on the affected area to help with the itching and any swelling
  • keeping the affected area clean
  • not scratching the bites to avoid getting an infection

You can ask a pharmacist about:

  • using a mild steroid cream like hydrocortisone cream to ease bedbug bites (children under 10 and pregnant women should get advice from a doctor before using hydrocortisone cream)
  • antihistamines – these may help if the bites are very itchy and you’re unable to sleep

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • the bites are still very painful, swollen or itchy after trying treatments from a pharmacist
  • the redness around the bites is spreading

You may have an infection and need treatment with antibiotics.

Coronavirus update: how to contact a GP

It’s still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

How to get rid of bedbugs

contact your local council or pest control service – it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get rid of bedbugs yourself because they can be resistant to some insecticides

wash affected bedding and clothing – use a hot wash (60C) or tumble dry on a hot setting for at least 30 minutes

put affected clothing and bedding in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer (-16C) for 4 days (alternative to hot washing)

clean and vacuum regularly – bedbugs are found in both clean and dirty places, but regular cleaning will help you spot them early

do not keep clutter around your bed

do not bring secondhand furniture indoors without carefully checking it first

do not take luggage or clothing indoors without checking it carefully if you have come from somewhere where you know there were bedbugs

Page last reviewed: 21 January 2019
Next review due: 21 January 2022

Chigger bites vs bed bug bites: Identify bug bite differences

How can you identify Chigger bites vs Bed bug bites?

Chiggers, (also called berry bugs) aren’t actually insects. Instead, they belong to the mite family, and they are closely related to spiders and ticks. However, their bites look similar to bed bugs.

How can you identify chiggers?

Although they aren’t ticks, these larval mites are quite small and measure around 0.15mm to 0.25mm in length. They are reddish-orange to red in color and have six legs. The preferred habitat for chiggers is grassy areas and thick, scrub-type vegetation where there is undisturbed soil so that chiggers can easily latch onto the hosts that pass by.
However,generally, chiggers are found in rural areas that are less disturbed, and they can persist for many years.

What do chiggers feed on?
Similar to dust mites, chiggers feed on animals’ skin cells. The parasitic larva feeds on various creatures which also includes quail, box turtles, toads, rabbits, humans, along with a few insects too.
Once they crawl on the hosts, they release digestive enzymes into the host’s skin which breaks down the skin cells. Instead of a bite, chiggers make a hole in the skin which is called a stylostome. Then, they chew small parts of the inner skin which leads to swelling and irritation.

How do chiggers reproduce?
Adult male chiggers move around their habitat and leave behind tiny capsules of sperm which are called spermatophores. The adult female chiggers find the capsules and insert them into the genital pore.
After around fourteen days of the egg fertilizing, the female then leaves the fertilized egg on the surface of the soil.

Identifying bed bugs

On the other hand, bed bugs are reddish brown in color, and they have a flat, oval shape. They measure around 4mm to 5mm in length and are around the size of an apple seed. Once they have a blood meal, bed bugs become reddish and swollen.

How does infestation take place?
They are generally found in small crevices and cracks. They can also be found in furniture, sheets, and mattress seams. Other common hiding places also include behind picture frames, electrical outlet plates, and baseboards.
The most common place that bed bugs can be found in is hotels as they can travel from one room to the other in the visitors’ luggage or personal belongings like briefcases and purses.

Where do bed bugs hide?
As mentioned earlier, bed bugs can enter your house without being detected via used couches and beds, clothing, and luggage, among other items. Since they have a flat body, fitting into small places is possible for them.Bed bugs can even hide in places as thin as the width of a regular credit card.
While bed bugs don’t have nests like bees and ants do, they still tend to live in groups.

Initially,bed bugs hide in places like headboards, bed frames, box springs, mattresses, and other similar places from where they can have easy access for biting people in the night.However, with time, the bed bugs can scatter throughout the room and can move into other locations.
They can also spread to nearby rooms and apartments. Since bed bugs survive only on blood, having bed bugs in your house doesn’t mean say anything about your hygiene. The possibility of having bed bugs in clean, immaculate homes is the same as in dirty ones.

Bed bug’s reproduction cycle

Female bed bugs can deposit one to five eggs in a single day. In their lifetime, females might lay, on average, around 200 to 500 eggs. With sufficient food supply and a regular room temperature, then they can survive for more than 300 days.

Preferred habitat for bed bugs
As apparent by the name, bed bugs prefer to live in warm beds. However, their habitats can also include car and bus seats, backpacks, couches, and clothes.

Chigger Bugs

Bed Bugs

Bite DurationA week (severe bits can last up to 15 days)A week (up to three weeks in overly sensitive skin)RemedyAnti-itch cream, cold compress, antihistamineAnti-itch cream, cold compress, antihistamineSymptomsItchinessItchinessBitesRed welts (typically over legs). Can also resemble a pimple or blister.Small raised bumps, in a zigzag pattern, surrounded by hives or blisters (typically over all extremities)

Chigger bites vs bed bug bites – The Difference

Distinguishing between bed bug bites and chigger bites can be a little tricky; however, there are some clues you can look for to figure out which of the two bit you.
Often, bed bug bites and chigger bites look almost the same. Both of them produce small, reddened areas that are usually swollen. The area might also be raised slightly because of inflammation.

Both bites are also quite itchy which means that you can’t judge the bite based on the itchiness level.You must make sure, however, that you don’t pick at the bite; otherwise, it will get much worse.

One way you can identify the bite is to look for the bug. You will be able to see the bed bugs under the mattress and on your body. Chiggers are extremely small and you might not even be able to see them.

Since, more often than not, chiggers are brought in from the outside via legs there is a high chance that the bites on your legs are chigger bites. Chigger bites can also be on the groin, ankles, and feet.

On the other hand, bed bugs bite all of the extremities. Thus, it is better to note when the bites appeared first and where so that you have a better idea of the bug you are dealing with.
The best way of identifying the bug is to look at the biting pattern. While bed bugs tend to bite in a straight line, chiggers bite randomly.

Symptoms: chigger bites vs bed bug bites
Both chigger and bed bug bites bring along different symptoms and side effects.

Symptoms of chigger bites

The symptoms of chigger bites appear right after the enzyme is injected into the skin. Remember that a chigger bite itself is hardly noticeable. The most common symptoms include a flat or raised red colored bump on the skin or a skin bump that resembles a pimple or blister accompanied with itching that can be quite intense.

The primary symptom is itching, this is most intense after two days of being bitten. The itchiness can last for a number of days and the bitten area can take up to even 15 days to return to its normal appearance.

In the majority of the cases, the symptoms occur almost immediately after the chigger bites; however, they can start to progress or develop in the days following the bite. If there is no further irritation, then the symptoms usually go away after just a week.

There are also many cases where people don’t feel the bite, or they don’t experience any symptoms apart from the minuscule dots where the bug bit along with some minor irritation and inflammation.
Meanwhile, a few people are hypersensitive to bites and can develop severe symptoms as well.
Since a condition which is characterized by itching can cause extreme scratching, the person can experience disruption of the skin. As a result, there is a possibility of a secondary bacterial skin infection.

Symptoms of a bed bug bite

Almost all bed bug bites cause a degree of discomfort along with inflammation and itchiness. Other symptoms that bed bug bites lead to include a painful, burning sensation, an itchy, raised bump that has a clear center, or an itchy bump with a dark center but light surrounding areas that are often swollen.

Symptoms can also be small red welts or bumps in a line or a zigzag pattern, and small bumps surrounded by hives or blisters.

In some rare cases, some people experience severe symptoms or reactions after being bitten by a bed bug. These symptoms can include difficulty in breathing, an irregular heartbeat, swollen tongue, blisters, and nausea. Such individuals require immediate medical attention.

Remedies

Both of the bites being discussed are to be treated differently and here is what you can do to reduce the swelling.

There are only a handful of options when it comes to treating bed bug bites. However, the first step is to clean the bite, preferably using water and soap. If the bite is too itchy, then you must refer to antihistamines, anti-itch creams, and over-the-counter hydrocortisone.
The affected area tends to heal on their own in just a week. However, if severe itchiness, inflammation, or swelling continues, then medical attention is definitely needed.

The main way of preventing a bed bug bite is to stop the insect from entering, breeding, and feeding in the human environment. During the day, the bugs stay in the cracks in the mattresses, walls, flooring, and furniture. They can also be in vacuum canisters.
Areas where infestations most commonly occur include condominium buildings, hotels, large offices, daycares, cruise ships, hospitals, vacation rentals, public transportation, shopping malls, second-hand stores, and college dorms.

Items that bring bed bugs into your house include used furniture, luggage, bedding, storage boxes, loungers placed in common areas, and shipped items.
To prevent bed bug bites, you must reduce the number of hiding places and try out integrated pest management techniques. Wash and heat-dry the bedspreads, bed sheets, blankets, as well as other clothes that come in contact with the floor. Using a mattress encasement cover isolates bed bugs from you.
Another great idea is to hire professional services and get an efficient pesticide sprayed in your house once a year. If this sound like an expensive option, this can be done by yourself using a bed bug spray.

Preventions

Similar to spider bites, first, take a shower and thoroughly scrub the skin with water and soap. This way, any chiggers that are still stuck to your body will be washed off. Then, with hot water, wash your clothes along with any towel or blankets that were in contact with the ground so that all the bugs hanging on are killed.

Next, treat the bites using an over-the-counter anti-itch ointment or cream such as hydrocortisone, calamine lotion, and menthol. For quick relief, you can also use a cold compress or antihistamine pills.
Chigger bites can get better with time; however, if the bite still bothers you after some days, then you must see the doctor.

In some cases, you might need steroid shots to calm the swelling and itching. In case the bites become infected, then you might have to take antibiotics as well.

While spending time in grassy areas, you must either use an insect repellent with DEET or wear such clothing that has been treated with insecticides like permethrin. While spraying the insecticide, focus more on those areas where the chiggers may travel from the clothing to the skin such as necklines and cuffs.
Natural sprays can also help to keep chiggers away. Try out those that include oils made from lemongrass, geranium, jojoba, tea tree, and citronella. Wear long pants and long sleeves with the pant legs safely tucked in the long socks so that you are not an easy target.

Chigger bites vs bed bug bites – Conclusion

While it’s difficult to distinguish a chigger bite from a bed bug bite, there are some signs (mentioned above) that can help you figure it out, if inspected closely.

While both bites appear the same, the differences lie in the biting pattern and the symptoms one experiences after the bite.
Make sure you take all the necessary measures to stay protected from both Bed bugs and Chiggers!

Here’s how to tell if you’ve been bitten by bedbugs — and what to do next

  • Bedbug bites can be tricky to identify because by themselves, they can resemble mosquito and flea bites.
  • However, only bedbug bites come in tight groupings or lines — mosquito and flea bites are more randomly scattered.
  • It’s possible to not notice bedbug bites for a couple of days after you’ve been bitten — in fact, you might notice other evidence of infestation such as eggs or fecal matter before you notice bites.
  • Severe allergic reactions are very uncommon, and bedbugs don’t carry disease — but if you have any questions, you should talk to your doctor.

Picture this: You’re drifting peacefully in dreamland, and all your worries are miles away.

Until the day you find some mysterious bites on your skin. You don’t remember getting them — which you usually do when it’s a pesky mosquito bite, because they’re so immediately annoying.

Then you notice that they’re raised, red, itchy, feel a bit like they’re burning — and are in a group or line. If you want to know if these are bedbug bites, read on.

Here’s why you might not know if you’ve been bitten right away.

When a bedbug bites you, it injects an anesthetic that makes most people not feel the insect as it’s feeding. That means the bug can take its time drinking your sweet, sweet blood — sometimes for 10 minutes or more at a time. Keep in mind that they’re biting you while you’re at your most vulnerable — in deep slumber, resting peacefully in your bed at night.

Since bedbug allergies are uncommon — and since they happen when you’re asleep — many people might not even notice them until a couple of days after they’ve happened. Depending on how you look at it, the fact that these bugs may not feed on you every single day may make things worse — or better.

There are similarities and differences between bedbug and other bug bites.

Bedbug bites are most frequently itchy , and you may also feel a burning sensation a couple of days after having been bitten. They can become raised red bumps that are easily mistaken for mosquito or even flea bites. If you notice small groupings of bites or even bites in a straight line, they’re most likely from bedbugs . Mosquitoes and fleas don’t leave bite patterns like this.

Although bedbugs thankfully don’t transmit disease via their bites, you do need to be careful about scratching yourself into a secondary infection — as can happen with any wounds that you don’t keep clean and sanitary while they’re healing.

There are clues that indicate you have a bedbug infestation.

You might notice other suspicious clues before you find bedbug bites on your body. Casings, little red fecal dots on your sheets, and eggs in and around where you sleep can indicate a bedbug infestation whether you’ve been bitten or not.

Severe allergic reactions are uncommon, but complex skin reactions can occur.

While it’s not common, hives — raised, itchy red welts — and even rashes can occur with bedbug bites. Some of these rashes can even look like blisters .

Robert Usinger — who is widely regarded as the father of bedbug research — performed an experiment on himself where he fed bedbugs using his own body once a week for seven years

At first, he noticed the same delayed reactions to the bites that are most commonly experienced by people noticing bites for the first time. But after awhile, he discovered that the more frequently he was bitten, the more immediate his reaction to the bites became — in the form of an angry red rash that would appear soon after the biting.

Additionally, some individuals may be allergic to anticoagulants and certain protein compounds that are found in the saliva of bedbugs, according to Pest Control Technology.

You’ll want an effective treatment for the bedbug bites.

First, don’t scratch yourself bloody — it’s tough when you’re uncomfortable, but you don’t want to get a secondary infection. Apply your favorite anti-itch cream, take an antihistamine that works for you — and if it’s unbearable or worries you for some other reason, call your doctor for proper medical advice for your situation.

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Bed Bugs FAQs

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, wingless, range from 1mm to 7mm (roughly the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny), and can live several months without a blood meal.

Where are bed bugs found?

Bed bugs are found across the globe from North and South America, to Africa, Asia and Europe. Although the presence of bed bugs has traditionally been seen as a problem in developing countries, it has recently been spreading rapidly in parts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. Bed bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts and their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found.

Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep. These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or any other clutter or objects around a bed. Bed bugs have been shown to be able to travel over 100 feet in a night but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.

Do bed bugs spread disease?

Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bugs can be an annoyance because their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection.

What health risks do bed bugs pose?

A bed bug bite affects each person differently. Bite responses can range from an absence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious allergic reaction. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous; however, an allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.

What are the signs and symptoms of a bed bug infestation?

One of the easiest ways to identify a bed bug infestation is by the tell-tale bite marks on the face, neck, arms, hands, or any other body parts while sleeping. However, these bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people so it is important to look for other clues when determining if bed bugs have infested an area. These signs include:

  • the bed bugs’ exoskeletons after molting,
  • bed bugs in the fold of mattresses and sheets,
  • rusty–colored blood spots due to their blood-filled fecal material that they excrete on the mattress or nearby furniture, and
  • a sweet musty odor.

How do I know if I’ve been bitten by a bed bug?

It is hard to tell if you’ve been bitten by a bed bug unless you find bed bugs or signs of infestation. When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten. Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite. The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea — a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line. Other symptoms of bed bug bites include insomnia, anxiety, and skin problems that arise from profuse scratching of the bites.

Because bed bug bites affect everyone differently, some people may have no reaction and will not develop bite marks or any other visible signs of being bitten. Other people may be allergic to the bed bugs and can react adversely to the bites. These allergic symptoms can include enlarged bite marks, painful swellings at the bite site, and, on rare occasions, anaphylaxis.

How did I get bed bugs?

Bed bugs are experts at hiding. Their slim flat bodies allow them to fit into the smallest of spaces and stay there for long periods of time, even without a blood meal. Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. The bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide. Most people do not realize they are transporting stow-away bed bugs as they travel from location to location, infecting areas as they travel.

Who is at risk for getting bed bugs?

Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area. However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation.

How are bed bugs treated and prevented?

Bed bug bites usually do not pose a serious medical threat. The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. Bed bug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying. If you suspect that you have an infestation, contact your landlord or professional pest control company that is experienced with treating bed bugs. The best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation.

This information is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the parasites described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.

Bedbugs

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Bedbugs are small, oval, brownish insects that live on the blood of animals or humans. Adult bedbugs have flat bodies about the size of an apple seed. After feeding, however, their bodies swell and are a reddish color.

Bedbugs do not fly, but they can move quickly over floors, walls, and ceilings. Female bedbugs may lay hundreds of eggs, each of which is about the size of a speck of dust, over a lifetime.

Immature bedbugs, called nymphs, shed their skins five times before reaching maturity and require a meal of blood before each shedding. Under favorable conditions the bugs can develop fully in as little as a month and produce three or more generations per year.

Although they are a nuisance, they are not thought to transmit diseases.

Where Bed Bugs Hide

Bedbugs may enter your home undetected through luggage, clothing, used beds and couches, and other items. Their flattened bodies make it possible for them to fit into tiny spaces, about the width of a credit card. Bedbugs do not have nests like ants or bees, but tend to live in groups in hiding places. Their initial hiding places are typically in mattresses, box springs, bed frames, and headboards where they have easy access to people to bite in the night.

Over time, however, they may scatter through the bedroom, moving into any crevice or protected location. They may also spread to nearby rooms or apartments.

Because bedbugs live solely on blood, having them in your home is not a sign of dirtiness. You are as likely to find them in immaculate homes and hotel rooms as in filthy ones.

When Bedbugs Bite

Bedbugs are active mainly at night and usually bite people while they are sleeping. They feed by piercing the skin and withdrawing blood through an elongated beak. The bugs feed from three to 10 minutes to become engorged and then crawl away unnoticed.

Most bedbug bites are painless at first, but later turn into itchy welts. Unlike flea bites that are mainly around the ankles, bedbug bites are on any area of skin exposed while sleeping. Also, the bites do not have a red spot in the center like flea bites do.

People who don’t realize they have a bedbug infestation may attribute the itching and welts to other causes, such as mosquitoes. To confirm bedbug bites, you must find and identify the bugs themselves.

Continued

Signs of Infestation

If you wake up with itchy areas you didn’t have when you went to sleep, you may have bedbugs, particularly if you got a used bed or other used furniture around the time the bites started. Other signs that you have bedbugs include:

  • Blood stains on your sheets or pillowcases
  • Dark or rusty spots of bedbug excrement on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls
  • Bedbug fecal spots, egg shells, or shed skins in areas where bedbugs hide
  • An offensive, musty odor from the bugs’ scent glands

If you suspect an infestation, remove all bedding and check it carefully for signs of the bugs or their excrement. Remove the dust cover over the bottom of the box springs and examine the seams in the wood framing. Peel back the fabric where it is stapled to the wood frame.

Also, check the area around the bed, including inside books, telephones or radios, the edge of the carpet, and even in electrical outlets. Check your closet, because bedbugs can attach to clothing. If you are uncertain about signs of bedbugs, call an exterminator, who will know what to look for.

If you find signs of infestation, begin steps to get rid of the bugs and prevent their return.

Bedbug Treatments

Getting rid of bedbugs begins with cleaning up the places where bedbugs live. This should include the following:

  • Clean bedding, linens, curtains, and clothing in hot water and dry them on the highest dryer setting. Place stuffed animals, shoes, and other items that can’t be washed in the dryer and run on high for 30 minutes.
  • Use a stiff brush to scrub mattress seams to remove bedbugs and their eggs before vacuuming.
  • Vacuum your bed and surrounding area frequently. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag and place in garbage can outdoors.
  • Encase mattress and box springs with a tightly woven, zippered cover to keep bedbugs from entering or escaping. Bedbugs may live up to a year without feeding, so keep the cover on your mattress for at least a year to make sure all bugs in the mattress are dead.
  • Repair cracks in plaster and glue down peeling wallpaper to get rid of places bedbugs can hide.
  • Get rid of clutter around the bed.

If your mattress is infested, you may want to get rid of it and get a new one, but take care to rid the rest of your home of bedbugs or they will infest your new mattress.

Continued

Bedbug Extermination

While cleaning up infested areas will be helpful in controlling bedbugs, getting rid of them usually requires chemical treatments. Because treating your bed and bedroom with insecticides can be harmful, it is important to use products that can be used safely in bedrooms. Do not treat mattresses and bedding unless the label specifically says you can use them on bedding.

Generally it is safest and most effective to hire an experienced pest control professional for bedbug extermination.

Sources

University of Kentucky College of Agriculture: "Bed Bugs."

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: "Bed Bugs."

The New York City Department of Heath and Mental Hygiene: "Stop Bed Bugs Safely."

University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Lancaster County: "Managing Bed Bugs."

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