How Often Do You Get 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

Is This a Bed Bug Bite?

Question:Is This a Bed Bug Bite?

Is that a bed bug bite? If a bump suddenly appears on your skin, you may worry that it’s a bed bug bite. If you’re staying in a hotel when you notice the bite, it’s important to identify it as coming from a bed bug right away, so you can protect yourself and your belongings by moving to another room immediately. You’ll also want to be sure what caused the bite before you report it to the hotel to make sure your complaint is taken seriously. (It’s best if you can locate one of the little pests in your room; take a cell phone pictures or capture it in a plastic bag.)

Answer:

A bed bug bite generally appears not alone, but in groups of three, since one bed bug can bite you multiple times over the course of one night. This pattern of three is commonly called "breakfast, lunch and dinner" bites. Appetizing, right? (See pictures to help you identify abed bug bite.)

A bed bug can bite you on any part of your body, but will generally go for exposed skin. Wearing extra clothes to bed can help protect you from a bed bug’s bite.

A bite from a bed bug will look different on everyone, making them difficult to identify. Even doctors often diagnose them as a rash, since many people have an allergic reaction to the bite of a bed bug and break out in red, inflamed, itchy skin. Some people will have raised bumps wherever they were bitten; others will just have a generalized red area. In most cases, the bed bug bite will itch like crazy.

How long the bed bug bite will stay on your skin is also highly variable depending on the person. Those who are most allergic will take the longest to clear up, up to a few weeks. For others, the bed bug bite will clear up in a matter of days. It’s important not to scratch the bite, as it could become infected and leave a scar. SeeTreatments for Bed Bug Bites

Get answers to more of your questions about bed bug bites:

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.

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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."

UNDERSTANDING BED BUG BEHAVIOR TO LEARN THE TELLTALE SIGNS OF INFESTATION

Bed bugs may be waging a nightly war on your family, so you’d better know your enemy. Learning about bed bug behavior is your first line of defense, even before you call in pest management professionals. Discourage these creepy home invaders by getting inside their heads. Here’s how.

INTERESTING BED BUG BEHAVIOR

Feeding patterns are mostly nocturnal and often occur in the “breakfast, lunch and dinner” bite pattern. This means the bed bug will first feed where your exposed skin meets the bedding and then move up for “lunch” before moving again and drawing their third bite, thereby creating a distinctive line of bites. You can also receive a singular bite or even develop a larger cluster of bites as dozens of bed bugs feed on your blood while you sleep.

THE BED BUG DINE AND DASH

Thanks to an anesthetic in their saliva and an extremely sharp, straw-like mouth they use for piercing your skin and sucking your blood, you won’t wake up during a bed bug feeding. The saliva also contains an anticoagulant, which prevents clotting, so a typical meal only takes between three to 10 minutes before the bed bug is gorged with your blood.

After eating, the bed bugs will scurry back to hiding spots in your room’s baseboards, floorboards, box springs, carpeting, picture frames, crevices, books, etc. Studying bed bug behavior tells us that they typically hide within eight feet of their victims, digesting your blood, mating and laying eggs before heading back to your bed for another feeding in about five to 10 days.

Oddly enough, it’s not the smell of humans that makes these pests drool as they gravitate from all corners of your home toward your bed. High doses of human aldehydes actually repel bed bugs. Instead, the CO2, warmth and moisture your body emits can lure these bloodthirsty bed bugs to your bedside, all of which they can sense from three feet away. Beyond that, they search for blood meals in random patterns.

GUESS WHO ELSE IS COMING TO DINNER

Bed bug behavior is based around invading, multiplying and completely taking over your bed. After feeding, they return to their hidden trenches to digest the blood meals and begin the vicious bed bug mating process.

A single female lays between one and 12 eggs each day and between 200 and 500 eggs in a lifetime. Guess where all those offspring will be feeding? Now, multiply that reproduction rate by each bed bug in your home, and it’s clear why the pros say it’s never just one bed bug.

After hatching, bed bugs require a meal of blood between each of their five nymph stages. Molting occurs after each phase, which makes exoskeletons (i.e., bed bug shells) a telltale secondary sign of infestation. Immature bed bugs continue to become darker and larger as they feed between each phase until they reach adulthood. An egg can fully mature into an adult in as little as a month and a half if conditions are right (between 70°F and 90°F). The average lifespan of an adult bed bug ranges anywhere from four months to over a year with the right conditions. They spend this entire time feeding, mating and expanding the infestation.

What we know about bed bug behavior tells us this feeding and mating cycle will continue relentlessly. That is why you need a professional. Bed bugs are very difficult to control for several reasons. They can go a whole year without feeding, can survive any temperature between freezing and 122°F and are even evolving to resist standard pyrethroid insecticides.

UNMISTAKABLE SIGNS YOU MAY HAVE BED BUGS

Don’t rely on bites as a reliable sign of bed bugs. Bed bug bites can be hard to differentiate from other insect bites. Instead, look for secondary signs of bed bug infestation as well, such as shed skins, rust-colored spots on the mattress and bedding (bed bug feces), blood spots on your sheets and pajamas and a musty, sweet-smelling odor.

Physically spotting these insatiable insects is the gold standard for diagnosing a bed bug infestation. Unfortunately, bed bugs are nocturnal so catching one is difficult. If you get lucky, place captured bed bugs in a sealed container and show them to an expert.

Be sure to call Terminix® at the first sign of bed bugs. We understand bed bug behavior and will provide a free bed bug inspection for your home and a battle plan to win the war against bed bugs.

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