How Bed Bugs Bite

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

Childhood Skin Problems

Photo courtesy of Phil Pellitteri, University of Wisconsin

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The first sign of bedbugs may be red, itchy bites on the skin, usually on the arms or shoulders. Bedbugs tend to leave straight rows of bites, unlike some other insects that leave bites here and there.

Bedbugs do not seem to spread disease to people. But itching from the bites can be so bad that some people will scratch enough to cause breaks in the skin that get infected easily. The bites can also cause an allergic reaction in some people. Read more about bedbug bites – symptoms, treatments and prevention.

Sources

Image: Photo courtesy of Phil Pellitteri, University of Wisconsin

Text: "Bedbugs – Overview", WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Bedbugs

In this Article

In this Article

In this Article

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."

Everything You Need to Know About Bed Bug Bites

Bedbugs are small insects that feed on blood from humans or animals. They can live in your bed, furniture, carpet, clothing, and other belongings. They’re most active at night, feeding on people while they sleep.

Bedbugs can be 1 to 7 millimeters long. They’re flat, oval-shaped, and reddish-brown in color. They don’t have wings, so they rely on animals or humans to carry them from one place to another.

Although bedbug bites are rarely dangerous, they can be very itchy. In some cases, they become infected or cause an allergic reaction.

If you suspect there are bedbugs living in your home, it’s important to get rid of them.

Some people don’t develop noticeable symptoms from bedbug bites. When symptoms do develop, the bites tend to be:

  • red and swollen, with a dark spot at the center of each bite
  • arranged in lines or clusters, with multiple bites grouped together
  • itchy

Bedbugs can bite any part of your body. But they’ll usually bite areas of skin that are exposed while you sleep, such as your face, neck, arms, and hands. In some cases, the bites may develop into fluid-filled blisters.

If a bedbug bites your skin, you won’t feel it right away because the bugs excrete a tiny amount of anesthetic before feeding on people. It can sometimes take a few days for symptoms of bed bug bites to develop.

Bedbug bites often become noticeably red and swollen. Multiple bites may appear in a line or cluster in a small area of your body. The bites tend to be itchy. They may cause a burning sensation.

If you have bedbugs living in your home, they may not feed every single night. In fact, they can go multiple days without eating. It might take a few weeks to realize that the bites are part of a larger pattern.

Scratching bug bites can cause them to bleed or become infected. Learn more about the symptoms of an infected bug bite.

If you suspect there are bedbugs in your home, look for signs of them in your bed and other areas. For example, they often hide in:

  • mattresses
  • box springs
  • bed frames
  • headboards
  • pillows and bedding
  • cracks or seams of furniture
  • carpeting around baseboards
  • spaces behind light switches and electrical outlet plates
  • curtains
  • clothes

You may see the bugs themselves. You may also find drops of blood or small black dots of bug droppings in your bed. If you find bedbugs, call your landlord or a pest control company.

To contain and eliminate the infestation, it helps to:

  • Vacuum and steam-clean your floors, mattresses, furniture, and appliances.
  • Launder your linens, drapes, and clothing using the hottest settings of your washing machine and dryer.
  • Seal items that can’t be laundered in plastic bags and store them for several days at 0°F (-17°C) or for several months at warmer temperatures.
  • Heat items that can be safely heated to 115°F (46°C).
  • Fill gaps around your baseboards and cracks in furniture with caulking.

Several insecticides are also available to kill bedbugs. A pest control company may have access to insecticides or equipment that might be difficult for you to buy, rent, or use on your own. Find more tips for managing bedbug infestations and learn when to call a professional.

In most cases, bedbug bites get better within one to two weeks. To relieve symptoms, it may help to:

  • Apply anti-itch cream or calamine lotion to bites.
  • Take an oral antihistamine to reduce itching and burning.
  • Use an over-the-counter pain reliever to relieve swelling and pain.

In rare cases, bedbug bites can cause allergic reactions. If you develop signs or symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, call 911.

Sometimes, bedbug bites can cause an infection known as cellulitis. To reduce the risk of infection, wash the bites with soap and water and try not to scratch them. Learn when it’s time to visit your doctor for treatment.

In addition to over-the-counter medications, there are several home remedies that may help relieve the symptoms of bedbug bites.

To soothe bitten areas, it may help to apply one or more of the following:

  • a cold cloth or an ice pack wrapped in a towel
  • a thin paste of baking soda and water
  • certain types of essential oils

Although more research is needed, some studies suggest that camphor oil, chamomile oil, or some other types of essential oil may help relieve bug bites. Take a moment to learn more about seven essential oils that might help treat bites.

If you suspect that your baby or child has been bitten by bedbugs, check their sheets, mattress, bed frame, and nearby baseboards for signs of the bugs.

To treat bedbug bites on your baby or child, wash the bites with soap and water. Consider applying a cold compress or calamine lotion.

Talk to your child’s doctor or pharmacist before using topical steroid creams or oral antihistamines to treat the bites. Some medications may not be safe for babies or young children.

If your child is old enough to understand your instructions, ask them not to scratch the bites. To prevent scratching, it may also help to trim your child’s nails and cover the bites with a bandage.

Bedbug bites and fleabites are quite similar in appearance. Both can cause red bumps to form on your skin. Both can be very itchy.

When fleas bite you, they typically bite the lower half or your body or warm, moist areas around joints. For example, they may bite:

  • your feet
  • your legs
  • your armpits
  • the inside of your elbows or knees

Bedbugs are more likely to bite upper parts of your body, such as your:

If you suspect that bedbugs or fleas have bitten you, check for signs of the bugs in your home. Bedbugs often hide in the seams of mattresses, cracks of bed frames and headboards, and baseboards around beds. Fleas tend to live on family pets and in carpet or upholstered furniture.

If you find bedbugs or fleas, it’s important to treat your home or pet to get rid of them. Get the information you need to identify and treat infestations of these pests.

Bedbug bites and mosquito bites can both be red, swollen, and itchy. If you have a line of bites that appear in a small area of your body, they’re more likely to be bedbug bites. Bites that appear in no apparent pattern are more likely to be mosquito bites.

Both bedbug bites and mosquito bites tend to get better on their own, within a week or two. To relieve itching and other symptoms, it may help to apply a cold compress, calamine lotion, or other topical treatments. Taking an oral antihistamine can help as well.

It’s also possible to confuse bedbug bites with spider bites, ant bites, or other insect bites. Find out more about the differences between these types of bites.

Sometimes, people mistake hives for bedbug bites. Hives are red bumps that can develop on your skin as a result of an allergic reaction or other cause. Like bedbug bites, they’re often itchy.

If you develop red bumps on your skin that get larger, change shape, or spread from one part of your body to another in a short period of time, they’re more likely to be hives.

A small group or line of bumps that appear on one part of your body without changing shape or location are more likely to be bedbug bites.

If you develop hives along with breathing difficulties, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting, get medical help right away. You might be experiencing anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Learn more about anaphylaxis and other potential causes of hives.

Spider bites can be red and itchy, much like bedbug bites. But unlike bedbugs, spiders rarely bite more than once. If you only have one bite on your body, it’s probably not from bedbugs.

Spider bites often take longer to heal than other types of bug bites. Some spider bites can cause serious damage to your skin, especially if they get infected. To reduce the risk of infection, wash any bug bites with soap and water.

Some spiders are poisonous. If you suspect a poisonous spider has bitten you, get medical help right away.

Bedbugs can live in any home or public area. But they’re common in places that have a lot of people, a lot of turnover, and close quarters. You may be at increased risk for encountering bedbugs if you live or work in a:

  • hotel
  • hospital
  • homeless shelter
  • military barrack
  • college dorm
  • apartment complex
  • business office

Unlike some types of bugs, bedbugs don’t transmit diseases when they bite. But in some cases, bedbug bites can become infected. Potential signs and symptoms of an infection include:

  • pain and tenderness radiating from the bite
  • redness, swelling, or warmth around the bite
  • red streaks or spots near the bite
  • pus or drainage from the bite
  • dimpling of your skin
  • fever
  • chills

If have a bedbug allergy, you may also develop an allergic reaction after being bitten. This may cause painful swelling or intense itching around the bite. In some cases, it can also trigger a potentially life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

If you suspect that you’ve developed an infection or allergic reaction to a bedbug bite, contact your doctor. Get emergency medical care if you develop any of the following after being bitten:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • chills
  • dizziness
  • trouble breathing

Bedbugs don’t just bite humans. They can also feed on family pets.

If you have a pet who’s been bitten by bedbugs, the bites will likely get better on their own. But in some cases, they might become infected. Make an appointment with a veterinarian if you suspect your pet has an infected bite.

If you hire a pest control expert to get rid of bedbugs in your home, let them know if you have a pet. Some insecticides may be safer for your pet than others. It’s also important to wash your pet’s bed, stuffed toys, and other accessories where bedbugs may be living.

Bed bug bites: What you need to know

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Most people who are bitten by bed bugs experience symptoms that include irritation, sores, or itchiness. But how should bed bug bites be treated and can they be prevented?

There are several ways of reducing the chances of getting bites, while the treatment options include good hygiene and antihistamines.

This article explores bed bug bite treatment and prevention methods in detail.

Bed bugs are small parasitic insects that feed on human blood.

While they are a public health concern, bed bugs are not known to transmit disease through their bites.

Bed bugs use a small tube-like structure called a proboscis to pierce the skin and drink a person’s blood. The pests are most active when humans are asleep, during the night and early morning.

An estimated one in five Americans have personally dealt with a bed bug infestation or knows someone who has encountered the pests.

Bed bugs can bite anywhere on the body where there is skin. Typically, bites tend to occur on areas exposed during sleeping, such as:

Many people do not feel the bite itself or develop clear symptoms other than the dots where the bug bit and some minor, surrounding inflammation and irritation. Others are considered hypersensitive to bites and develop more severe symptoms.

In most cases symptoms occur more or less immediately after the bite, but they can develop or progress over the following days as well. Without further irritation, symptoms typically resolve after a week or so.

Almost all bed bug bites will produce some degree of discomfort, typically itchiness and inflammation. Other signs and symptoms of bed bug bites include:

  • a burning painful sensation
  • a raised itchy bump with a clear center
  • a red itchy bump with a dark center and lighter swollen surrounding area
  • small red bumps or welts in a zigzag pattern or a line
  • small red bumps surrounded by blisters or hives
  • papular eruptions or areas of skin with raised or flat patches that may be inflamed
  • small spots of blood from bites often dried or stained onto sheets or bed clothing
  • reddish or reddish-brown dried stains on fabrics due to bed bug droppings
  • white or clear skins, shed by the nymphs as they mature

Individual characteristics of the bug’s bite and the person who is bitten also influence the resulting sore.

While fairly rare, some people have or develop severe reactions and symptoms from bed bug bites. Serious symptoms that require medical attention include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • blisters
  • fever
  • feeling nauseous or flu-like
  • swollen tongue
  • irregular heartbeat

Living with bed bugs can cause additional health complications:

  • Increased likelihood of infection: Due to the skin’s surface being compromised.
  • Sleep deprivation: The idea of being fed on can be extremely stressful. Given that the bugs only feed at night, some people will avoid sleep or will only get fitful or restless sleep.
  • Decreased wellbeing: A continual lack of sleep has been linked to feelings of depression, anxiety, general fatigue, and lowered immune function. The misconceptions surrounding bed bugs, especially the mistaken association with lack of cleanliness, can add to feelings of depression and low self-esteem.

There are relatively few treatments options when it comes to uncomplicated bed bug bites.

The first recommended line of treatment involves cleaning the wound, ideally with soap and water.

For itchy bites, the following may relieve minor symptoms:

  • over-the-counter hydrocortisone, which can be purchased online.
  • anti-itch creams
  • antihistamines

Most wounds heal on their own within a week, sometimes two.

If severe swelling, inflammation, or itchiness occurs or persists, a person should seek medical attention.

A dramatic immune response may be a sign of an allergic reaction. If this is the case, one of the following may need to be administered:

  • an injectable corticosteroid
  • antihistamine
  • epinephrine medication

If infection occurs, antibiotics may be prescribed.

Severe itchiness may result in further complications, such as infection or scarring. If severe itching is experienced, people may be prescribed corticosteroid creams and antihistamine pills or liquid.

One way to help prevent exposure and potential infestations by bed bugs is to be able to recognize bed bugs and distinguish them from other pests.

In a 2017 study, some 35 percent of polled American business travellers and 28 percent of leisure travellers were unable to tell a bed bug apart from other household pests.

Common characteristics of nymphs (young bed bugs) include:

  • being less than than 5 mm in length
  • whitish-yellow and or clear-colored
  • invisible without a microscope or magnifying glass

The nymphs are easier to see if they have just feed when the blood fills their abdomen, giving it a reddish brown color.

Adult bed bugs are typically far easier to spot than nymphs. Identifiable characteristics of most adult bed bugs include:

  • an oval-shaped body
  • apple seed in size
  • a body that is fairly flat unless recently fed and inflated
  • reddish-brown to light-brown or tan color of shell, depending on how recently it fed
  • a length of 5-7 millimeters (mm)
  • three segments, an antenna with four parts, short yellow hairs, and unusable wings
  • a musty or stale-sweet scent released by glands on the underbelly

Controlling bed bugs needs the identification and complete removal or destruction of the pest’s eggs.

On average, one female can produce at least 345 eggs over her lifetime. Egg-laying females often increase the volume and frequency of feeding to support their brood.

Common characteristics and signs of bed bug eggs include:

  • they are often laid in the same places where the female choses to rest
  • they resemble tiny barrel-shaped, pearl-colored specks, no bigger than the head of a pin
  • they develop a noticeable eye spot after a few days

The key to preventing bed bug bites is to stop the insects entering, feeding, and breeding in human environments.

In the daytime, bed bugs often seek refuge in the cracks and crevices of furniture, flooring, walls, and mattresses.

The seams and folds of upholstered furniture can also offer an ideal hiding place. Bed bugs have been known to persist in vacuum canisters or units.

The insects tend to pick hiding spots near human sleeping quarters, including bedrooms. Bed bugs found in other rooms are usually a sign of a severe infestation.

Areas where bed bug infestations commonly occur include:

  • apartment or condominium buildings
  • large office spaces
  • hotels
  • vacation rentals
  • cruise ships
  • daycares
  • nursing homes
  • hospitals
  • college dormitories or housing units
  • public transportation, including airplanes
  • shopping malls
  • furniture or second hand stores
  • urban areas
  • rented homes

Items commonly responsible for spreading bed bugs include:

  • used or secondhand furniture
  • new furniture or textiles exposed to bed bugs during transit
  • items of luggage
  • chairs or loungers where people fall asleep
  • bedding or bed clothes
  • moving or storage boxes
  • shipped items, especially if held at several locations or warehouses

Bed bugs do not have a preference between sanitary, messy, or unsanitary conditions.

They can, however, be found at higher rates in places, such as hotels, if infestations are not properly cleared.

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