How Do Bed Bugs Look On Your Skin
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
What’s Under Your Skin? Bugs That Burrow
If you wear contact lenses, donвЂ™t wash them in tap water. You might pick up this bug, which can burrow into your eye and cause an infection calledAcanthamoebakeratitis. Symptoms include redness, a feeling that somethingвЂ™s in your eye, and sensitivity to light. If it isnвЂ™t treated, you could lose your sight. ItвЂ™s most common among contact lens wearers, but anyone can get the bug. It lives in bodies of water like lakes and oceans, and in soil and air.
This worm is a parasite that spreads through deer-fly bites. It burrows into your skin and causes itchy areas around your joints called Calabar swellings. It also leads to an infection called loiasis, or African eye worm. You may even see the worm as it crawls across the surface of your eye or under your skin. But you probably wonвЂ™t get it unless you spend time in the rain forests of West and Central Africa.
These bugs, known as sand fleas or jiggers, dig into your feet at the heel, sole, or toes. They cause a skin disease called tungiasis. You donвЂ™t feel it when they go in. But they grow up to 2,000 times bigger once inside your foot. This makes your skin itchy and irritated. Your foot may also swell and get ulcers. Some people get gangrene or tetanus. Chigoe fleas live in sandy, tropical places, and arenвЂ™t common in the United States.
This tapeworm can grow up to a foot long in your intestines. ItвЂ™s rare for people to get it in the U.S., but animals can have it. Most human cases are in Southeast Asia. Sparganum can live almost anywhere inside your body for up to 20 years. The infection doesnвЂ™t usually cause symptoms, unless itвЂ™s in your brain. Then you can have weakness, a headache, numbness, tingling, or a seizure.
These squirmers are way too small to see without a microscope. You get them when an infected mosquito bites you. They live in your lymph system and cause a disease called lymphatic filariasis. It can lead to fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a buildup of fluid in your body. Most people never have any symptoms, though. The worms are most common in the tropics. They donвЂ™t affect people in the U.S.
This pest isnвЂ™t a worm at all — itвЂ™s a fly. Adults lay eggs on a cut or sore on your skin. When they hatch, the larvae feed on the wound and cause an infection. Livestock get it more often than humans. ItвЂ™s most common in South American and Caribbean countries.В
This is called the вЂњbrain-eating amoebaвЂќ because it destroys brain tissue. It lives in warm lakes and rivers, and it can travel up your nose when you swim. Symptoms include headaches, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Later, it can cause stiff neck, seizures, and hallucinations. Most infected people die, but the disease is rare. Between 1962 and 2008 there were 111 reported cases in the U.S., mostly among young, healthy men.
This spiky parasite travels through your stomach wall after it infects you. ItвЂ™s most common in cats, but people can get it by eating undercooked freshwater fish. You canвЂ™t catch it from a person who has it. The larva infects your stomach and liver first, causing pain. Then it moves to your skin, which swells and itches. It can be deadly if it gets into your nervous system. ItвЂ™s mostly found in Southeast Asia and is rare in the U.S.
These pests can dig into any part of your body, but they really like folds, creases, or hairy areas like your scalp. They can range from the size of a sesame seed to that of an apple seed or larger. They tend to hang out on tall grass and shrubs, and they hook onto you when you brush against them. Ticks cut into your skin so they can stick in a tube and suck out blood. The ones that carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other conditions infect you as they feed
These critters get their name from where they like to bite — around your mouth and eyes. They usually attack while youвЂ™re asleep. They often hang out in woodpiles or ratsвЂ™ nests. TheyвЂ™re also drawn to the lights and carbon dioxide in your house. They feed on both pets and people. Their bite can cause an allergic reaction. They also spread Chagas disease, which can be life-threatening.
These mites dig tunnels under your skin and lay eggs in them. You can get them if you have close contact or sleep in the same bed with someone who has them. TheyвЂ™re too small to see, though. They prefer the skin between fingers, arm and leg folds, the penis, breasts, and shoulder blades. It can take up to a month for you to feel the itch. Your doctor will give you something to get rid of them.
Three kinds of them live on people: body, head, and pubic lice. These sesame seed-sized bugs grab onto hair and feed on blood through your skin. Mostly they make you itch, but they can spread disease. You get them from direct contact with a person who has them. Pubic lice can be spread through sex. Lice are very common. Treat them with over-the-counter and prescription medications.
When you think of critters that dig in, chiggers may be the first things that come to mind. But they donвЂ™t burrow. They attach to your outer layer of skin and feast on the cells. Once the bug is full, it lets go. This usually takes 3 days. In the meantime, the bites itch. A lot. Chiggers live in shady, grassy areas or on leaves close to the ground. They like areas under the tight parts of clothing, like waistbands or sock cuffs.
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IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
(1) CDC / Anna S. Kitzmann, M.D.В
(4) Philipp Weigell / Wikimedias
(7) Drs. D.T. John & T.B. Cole / Getty Images
(8) Joanna S. Herman, and Peter L. Chiodini Clin. Microbiol., American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.
(10) Getty Images
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(12) Getty Images
CDC: Parasites — Loiasis
CDC: вЂњLoiasis FAQsвЂќ
Pan American Health Organization: вЂњTungiasis.вЂќ
Heemskerk, J.ActaChirurgica Belgica, 2005.
Baron, S., editor,Medical Microbiology, 4 th Edition: University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; 1996.
CDC: вЂњParasites — Lymphatic Filariasis.вЂќ
CDC: вЂњAcanthamoebaKeratitis FAQsвЂќ
Center for Food Security and Public Health: вЂњScrewworm.вЂќ
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: вЂњNew World Screwworm.вЂќ
CDC: вЂњNaegleria fowleri— Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM).вЂќ
American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists: вЂњGnathostoma Spinigerum.вЂќ
CDC: вЂњParasites — Gnathostomiasis (GnathostomaInfection).вЂќ
Lyme Disease Association: вЂњAbout Ticks.вЂќ
CDC: вЂњLife Cycle of Hard Ticks that Spread Disease.вЂќ
CDC: вЂњTickborne Diseases of the U.S.вЂќ
University of Arizona Department of Neuroscience: вЂњBasic Kissing Bug Facts.вЂќ
Illinois Department of Public Health: вЂњMites Affecting Humans.вЂќ
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment: вЂњParasitic Mites of Humans.вЂќ
CDC: вЂњLice — Pubic вЂCrabвЂ™ Lice.вЂќ
WA Today: вЂњ’Spiderman’ squished: Perth experts debunk spider burrowing claims.вЂќ
Foelix, R.Biology of Spiders, 3 rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2010.
Bohart Museum of Entomology: вЂњSpider Bites.вЂќ
Texas A&M University: вЂњChiggers.вЂќ
Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on July 17, 2019
This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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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
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:
- box springs
- bed frames
- pillows and bedding
- cracks or seams of furniture
- carpeting around baseboards
- spaces behind light switches and electrical outlet plates
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:
- 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
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:
- 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 bugs: Diagnosis and treatment
How do you know if you have bed bugs?
To find out if you have bed bugs, you need to look for two things:
Bites on your body
Signs of bed bugs
Bites on your body:If you have bed bugs, you’re likely to have bites. Bed bug bites usually cause itchy welts. These welts usually appear in a zigzag pattern as show in the photo below.
Bed bug bites
When bedbugs bite, you often see clusters of bites. Each cluster usually contains 3 to 5 bites that appear in a zigzag pattern.
You’ll seldom see bed bugs, so many people mistakenly believe that mosquitoes, fleas, or spiders bit them. Sometimes people mistake bed bug bites for a common skin condition such as an itchy rash, hives, or chickenpox.
To make sure you have bed bugs, you’ll need to look for signs of bed bugs.
How to check for bed bugs
Although bed bugs don’t usually require serious medical attention, they can cause a great deal of anxiety and restless nights. To help find bed bugs before they find you (and your belongings), dermatologists recommend looking for the following signs near places where you sleep.
How to check for bed bugs
Although bed bugs don’t usually require serious medical attention, they can cause a great deal of anxiety and restless nights. To help find bed bugs before they find you (and your belongings), dermatologists recommend looking for the following signs near places where you sleep.
Signs of bed bugs:This step is important. If you have a bed bug infestation, you need to find out so that you can get rid of the bed bugs. Getting rid of the bed bugs is the only way to stop the bites.
If you have a large number of bed bugs, you may see the bugs. Most people, however, only see signs of bed bugs. To look for signs of bed bugs, check the places that people sleep for the following:
A sweet, musty odor.Take a deep breath. If you notice a sweet, musty in your hotel room, cruise-ship cabin, or other sleeping area, there may be a heavy bed bug infestation in the room. Bed bugs produce chemicals to help them communicate, although not everyone will notice the smell.
Specks of blood on bedding, mattresses, or upholstered furniture such as couches and headboards.Look carefully at your blankets, sheets, and mattress pads and then check the mattress and box spring. Are there specks of blood anywhere, especially near the seams? If so, there could be a bed bug infestation. You should also check for specks of blood on all upholstered furniture, including couches and headboards.
Exoskeletons.Bed bugs have an outer shell that they shed and leave behind. Do you see shell-like remains on the mattress, mattress pad, or beneath couch cushions?
Tiny, blackish specks.If you see blackish specks on the bedding, mattress, headboard, or beneath couch cushions, it could be bed bug excrement.
Eggs.After mating, female bed bugs lay white, oval eggs in cracks and crevices. Keep in mind that these will be small, as a bed bug is only about the size of an apple seed. The photo below shows a bed bug near eggs. The photo was magnified so that you can see the bed bug and eggs.
If you do get bed bugs and have many bites or a bite that looks infected, see a board-certified dermatologist. A dermatologist can treat an infection and help relieve the itch.
Bed bug with eggs
A bed bug is a tiny insect with a broad, oval body. If it has recently eaten, it has a reddish-brown color.
If you see bed bugs, they will likely scurry toward the closest hiding place. Any dark place such as inside a mattress or even a picture frame makes a good hiding place.
As you watch bed bugs move, it can look like they are flying or jumping because they can crawl quickly. Bed bugs cannot fly or jump; they can only crawl.
If you find signs of bed bugs, call a pest-control company or your property manager. You should not use bug spray or a fogger. These products have little effect on bed bugs.
Treating bed bug bites
You should see a dermatologist for treatment if you have:
Skin infection (bites feel tender or ooze discharge, such as pus)
An allergic skin reaction (skin red and swollen or hives)
Your dermatologist may prescribe the following to treat bed bug bites:
Allergic reaction.Some people may require an injection of an antihistamine, corticosteroid, or epinephrine (adrenaline) for a severe allergic reaction.
Infection.An infection may require an antibiotic. If the infection is mild, your dermatologist may recommend an antiseptic medication that you can buy without a prescription. Your dermatologist will tell you which one to use. Your dermatologist also may recommend an antiseptic to prevent a skin infection.
Itch.A prescription antihistamine pill or liquid can help. You also can apply a corticosteroid to the bites. Your dermatologist will tell you which is best for you.
If you do not have any signs of an infection or a serious reaction, you can often treat the bites at home.
To treat bed bug bites:
Wash the bites with soap and water.This will help prevent a skin infection and help reduce itchiness.
If the bites itch, apply a corticosteroid cream to the bites.You can get a weak form of this medicine without a prescription at your local drugstore. Stronger corticosteroids require a prescription.
Bed bug bites usually heal and go away within a week or two.
Leverkus Met al. “Bullous Allergic Hypersensitivity to Bed bug Bites Mediated by IgE against Salivary Nitrophorin."J of Invest Dermatol. 2006;126:2364-2366.
Liebold Ket al. “Disseminated bullous eruption with systemic reaction caused by Cimex lectularius.”J Euro Acad of Dermat and Vener. 2003;17:461-463.
Steen CJ, Carbonaro PA, Schwartz RA. “Arthropods in dermatology.”J Am Acad Dermatol2004; 50:819-42.
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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
- 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
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
- 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
- vacation rentals
- cruise ships
- nursing homes
- 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.