How Bad Are Bed Bug Bites

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

Bedbug Bites: Not Dangerous but Painful

If you’ve seen bedbug bites in person or a photo, they can be scary—with the worst cases looking like a series of angry rashes from head to toe. Those sleeping in the same room with bedbugs will quickly find that they can add more bites to your collection every night.

Bedbug bites are itchy, ugly, and frustrating. But are they dangerous?

When bedbugs bite a person, they inject a chemical that acts as an anesthesia in the area of the bedbug’s bites; as a result, you likely won’t feel a thing while the bugs are feasting on blood, which explains why you can have multiple, even hundreds of bedbug bites and not wake up.

However, unlike mosquitos, bedbugs do not carry and spread diseases through their bites, so there is not the risk of getting a serious illness from being bitten. Of course, these bites are beyond annoying, and an infestation should be taken care of as soon as possible.

Varying Chemical Sensitivity

People vary in sensitivity to the chemical injected when bedbugs bite, and the amount you suffer is unique depending on your body’s reaction.

Some people are very allergic to the chemical, and break out in a rash. The rash—and possibly raised welts that might appear in each spot that received bites—may last as long as a few weeks before completely clearing up.

Most people will only get the raised welts that disappear after a few days. It’s important not to scratch these bites, which can expose your skin to infection and, in turn, lead to complications like scarring.

Treat the bedbug bites by washing with soap and water and then applying ice, or use a topical cream or oral antihistamine to relieve the itching. If symptoms appear like tender skin, the bite feels hot or starts oozing yellow, white or greenish goo then see a doctor for something prescription-strength.

Bedbug bites and the accompanying rash are not contagious, although you may get a lot of strange looks from people. Victims of bedbug bites report the reaction from friends and family to their appearance and their subsequent paranoia about bedbugs is the worst part of the ordeal.

Finding Bedbugs

Bedbugs do not spread disease by their bites, and you can also be assured that a bedbug infestation, whether in your house or a hotel, is not caused by dirt. Bedbugs can live in perfectly clean environments, as long as they have a live host to bite.

Bedbug bites usually happen in groups of three, and you’ll rarely find a single bite. However, since bites look different on everyone, it’s generally hard to pinpoint a bug bite as from a bedbug unless you see groups of bites.

If you’re staying in a hotel or concerned that there might be a bedbug in your house because you’ve woken up with several bites on your body, check your bites against some images online then check your bedding for small, red bugs.

The bugs may be found in a bed—look for reddish or black streaks on sheets—but they can also live in carpets, floorboards, wallpaper, and within the tiny cracks and crevices throughout a room.

If found when traveling, change rooms immediately. At home, it is best to call in a professional exterminator.

Bed bugs: How to identify if your bites are from bed bugs

BED BUGS feed off human blood by biting the skin of their victims while they’re sleeping. But how do you know if your bites are from bed bugs or from other insects? Here’s how to tell.

Bed bugs are small insects that live in and around beds and furniture. They crawl out at night and bite exposed skin to feed of blood. Bed bugs are not dangerous and don’t carry diseases, but their bites can be itchy and irritating to live with. If you are getting bitten at night and don’t know why, how can you tell if your bites are from bed bugs or from other insects? Bed bug bites look similar to bites from other insects, in that they appear as itchy, red bumps on the skin.

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

While this may make it seem difficult to distinguish between the potential culprits, there are a number of ways to detect where your bites are coming from.

Firstly, you may be able to tell if your bites are from bed bugs by looking at the pattern in which the bites appear on your skin.

Bites usually occur on exposed areas like the face, neck, hands or arms, and are less likely to occur under clothing.

As bed bugs are crawling insects, they typically bite in lines or clusters along the skin while they are crawling.

Flying insects like mosquitoes are more likely to bite in random places on the body while they are flying.

Bed bugs are crawling insects that bite exposed skin during the night (Image: Getty Images)

Secondly, you may be able to detect the source of the bites by checking for evidence of bed bugs in your bedroom.

Bed bugs are small, but are still visible to the human eye. Adults can grow up to 5mm long.

They usually hide away in cracks in the bed and surrounding furniture so you could try to find them by searching the mattress and bed frame, and shining a torch into the crevices of the furniture.

You may also be able to spot evidence of bed bugs by checking for markings on the bed sheets and mattress.

In homes with bed bugs infestations, the bed sheets and mattresses will often be covered in brown or black or red spots.

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Bed bugs live in beds and surrounding furniture (Image: Getty Images)

Bed bugs bite in clusters or lines along the skin (Image: Getty Images)

Bed bugs: How to spot them and how to get rid of them

Bed bugs: What are bed bugs? How to spot an infestation and how to get rid of them.

Bed bugs: How to spot them and how to get rid of them

The brown or black spots are dried poo from the bed bugs, while the red spots are blood stains which occur if you squash a bug while sleeping after it has fed.

Bed bugs shed their skin as they grow, so you might also notice mottled bed bug shells on and around the bed.

In addition, you may be able to detect the presence of bed bugs by the tiny white eggs they lay.

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

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

If you think you have a bed bug infestation in your home, you may need to call in pest control to get rid of them.

Bed Bug Facts & Statistics

Read our Bugs Without Borders Survey below for more bed bug statistics.

The following bed bug facts and statistics are compiled from the 2018 Bugs Without Borders survey conducted by the National Pest Management Association:

  • Almost all (97 percent) pest professionals have treated bed bugs in the past year.A majority of them say that overall bed bug service work (69 percent) and the prevalence of these pests (66 percent) are increasing.
  • Bed bugs may be easily confused with other pests, as 84 percent of pest control professionals were initially contacted about a different type of pest before identifying them as bed bugs. The majority of these contacts (71 percent) were about fleas, followed by cockroaches (28 percent).
  • More than half of pest control professionals noted that they receive the most bed bug complaints during the summer, as increased travel during this time of the year may help spread bed bugs from vacation destinations to homes or even college lodgings to homes as students go on summer break.
  • The top three places where pest professionals report finding bed bugs are single-family homes (91 percent), apartments/condominiums (89 percent), and hotels/motels (68 percent). Past bed bug statistics have shown these environments to consistently be the top three where bed bugs have been encountered.
  • Bed bugs are also found seemingly everywhere else and in higher numbers, such as nursing homes (59 percent), schools and daycare centers (47 percent), offices (46 percent), college dorms (45 percent), hospitals (36 percent) and public transportation (19 percent).
  • Bites are the most commonly reported sign of an infestation (92 percent) and more than half of people reach out for treatment after discovering bites and welts on their bodies.Although some people immediately develop a skin reaction to bites, others may take two to three days before showing obvious symptoms or any symptoms at all, meaning that people could be unaware of a bed bug problem until a full-blown infestation has taken root.
  • Typically found in couches and bed frames, bed bugs can also be found in some of the most unexpected places, including stuffed animals, wheelchairs, airplanes, school buses, purses and even inside bedside lamps.

Previous Bed Bugs in America Survey

The following bed bug statistics and facts are compiled from the NPMA’s 2011 Bed Bugs in America Survey:

  • One out of five Americans has had a bed bug infestation in their home or knows someone who has encountered bed bugs at home or in a hotel
  • Americans who have encountered bed bugs tend to be younger, live in urban areas and rent their homes. The incidence of bed bugs is three times higher in urban areas than in rural areas due to factors such as larger population size, apartment living and increased mobility, which are conducive to the rapid spread and breeding of bed bugs.
  • Bed bugs are found in all 50 states. Specifically, the pests were encountered by 17 percent of respondents in the Northeast; 20 percent in the Midwest; 20 percent in the South; and 19 percent in the West.
  • Most Americans are concerned about bed bugs and believe that infestations in the United States are increasing. Nearly 80 percent are most concerned about encountering bed bugs at hotels; 52 percent on public transportation; 49 percent in movie theaters; 44 percent in retail stores; 40 percent in medical facilities; 36 percent in their own homes; and 32 percent equally pointed to places of employment and friends’ homes. The fear of getting bitten topped the list of concerns.
  • As the public’s awareness of the bed bug resurgence grows, many Americans are modifying their behaviors to minimize their risk of an infestation: 27 percent have inspected or washed clothing upon returning from a trip; 25 percent have checked a hotel room for bed bugs; 17 percent have inspected or vacuumed a suitcase upon returning from a trip and 12 percent have altered or canceled travel plans because of concern about bed bugs.
  • Sixteen percent of survey respondents inspected second-hand furniture they have brought into their homes; 15 percent have checked dressing rooms when trying on clothing and 29 percent have washed new clothing immediately upon bringing it home from a store.
  • Of the 13 percent of respondents who said they knew someone who had a bed bug infestation in their home, 40 percent said they avoided entering the infested home and 33 percent discouraged those who had the infestation from entering their own home.
  • Despite the availability of information, most Americans still have misconceptions about bed bugs. Nearly half of respondents incorrectly believe that bed bugs transmit disease. However, research conducted to date has shown that bed bugs do not transmit disease to their human victims, although some people may experience itchy, red welts; 29 percent inaccurately believe bed bugs are more common among lower income households, and 37 percent believe bed bugs are attracted to dirty homes. Bed bugs do not discriminate in regard to household income and are found in both sanitary and unsanitary conditions.

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.

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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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