How To Treat Bedbug Bites On Skin

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

How to Identify Bed Bug Bites—and How to Treat Them

Wake up with reddish welts or itchy skin? The culprit may be a bed bug hiding under your bed. These are the signs a dermatologist and entomologist look for.

Changlu Wang/Courtesy Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station

Unfortunately, a bed bug bite has no telltale sign, according to a review published in theAmerican Society for Microbiology. The reaction to bites varies tremendously from one person to the next. Some people will have no reaction or just minor itching and mosquito-like bumps in one area; others will get dramatic red raised welts all over. “It depends on the number of feeding bugs on the body, how long the person has been suffering bites, and also where the bites are located,” says Jody Green, PhD, an urban entomologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Five stages of post-bed bug bites

If you have evidence of bed bug bites on your skin, it’s due to your body’s allergic response, according to the U.S. Armed Forces’ 2019 Pest Management Board: Technical Guide #44. That response can take a few different forms: little to no reaction; an immediate reaction—often a red spot with minor discomfort; a delayed reaction in which red weals turn up within 14 days that trigger intense itching that can last two to five days; or, unfairly, a combination of immediate and delayed reactions. This makes it tough to know what’s gnawing on you without the help of an entomologist or dermatologist. Although this guide to bug bites may help.

Familiar signs of bed bug bites

While there is no exact way to tell what bug bit you, dermatologist A. Yasmine Kirkorian, MD, an assistant professor of Dermatology & Pediatrics, Children’s National Health System, says there are some patterns doctors look for: “Bed bugs typically bite several times in a row so people may notice several red itchy bumps grouped closely together, a pattern sometimes called ‘breakfast, lunch, and dinner,’” she explains. “They can occur anywhere on the body; bed bug bites on the face may cause intense swelling including of the eyelid.” A small study found that 72 percent of people who were bitten by bed bugs had itchy red welts, 50 percent had redness or discoloration, and 28 percent had itching with no welts. Call your doc or dermatologist and look for these signs of bed bugs in your house.

It can’t be bed bug bites

Let’s say you are sleeping in the same bed as your partner and your partner wakes up with bites but you don’t. Must not be bed bugs, right? Sadly, it still could be. “The most challenging thing about bed bug bites is that there is are people who do not react to bed bug bites, so they have no adverse skin responses and have no idea that they are being fed upon while they are sleeping,” says Green. One survey found that nearly one in three people had no reaction to bed bug bites. When the researchers broke out reactions by age, they found that 42 percent of people over 65 had no reaction. Bites or no bites, this is how bed bugs could get in your bedroom.

Bed bug bite treatment

People who do react to bed bugs often have intense itching. “Once a patient has been bitten, it is difficult to eradicate the itching. Over-the-counter anti-itch creams that contain one percent pramoxine can help,” says Dr. Kirkorian. Try Aveeno with pramoxine and calamine. Oral antihistamines such as Zyrtec and Benadryl may be effective too, says Dr. Kirkorian. But if your itching persists, your dermatologist or doctor might prescribe topical steroids such as triamcinolone and fluocinonide.

Just thinking about bed bugs can wreck your sleep, as well. Talk to your doctor if you start suffering from insomnia. “A sedating antihistamine such as Benadryl could be safe to use,” says Dr. Kirkorian.

Home remedies for bed bug bites

Before you commit to natural bed bug treatment, remember to practice good hygiene and caution, advises Larry Bishop, MD, a dermatologist with Health First Medical Group: Be sure to wash the area with soap and water first to reduce the risk of infection; if the area appears irritated or develops a rash, stop using the treatment and see a doctor. For remedies, Dr. Bishop suggests trying peppermint oil: “It works by two mechanisms—the peppermint oil is a vasoconstrictor (blood vessel constrictor), which lessens the pain and irritation from bed bug bites. Additionally, the peppermint works as a soothing agent by gently stimulating the nerves around the bite.” Try adding a few drops to a warm bath; if you want to apply it to the bites, dilute it first with an oil such as coconut, jojoba or olive.

Lemon balm is another favorite for bug bites. Crush or roll the leaves with your fingers to release the juice, apply it to the bites, and wrap with a bandage. “It works by having soothing properties and antibacterial properties,” Dr. Bishop says. Finally, there’s household ammonia—research suggests that it can help with itchy bites. It may not smell great, says Dr. Bishop, but if you put a little on a cotton ball and dab it on the area right away, it can help. “It works by neutralizing the proteins that are in the saliva of the bed bugs.” The saliva is what produces the allergic reaction in some people, and the quicker you neutralize it, the better.

When to see the doctor

Your bed bug bites will generally clear up on their own, but if you itch them the scratching can lead to secondary infections. “The initial bite may be a portal for bacteria to enter the skin. If a patient develops a worsening red bump, pus drainage, a fever, or other signs of systemic illness, they should seek urgent medical attention,” advises Dr. Kirkorian. Then, find out how to get rid of bed bugs.

Bedbugs

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

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

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

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

Where Bed Bugs Hide

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

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

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

When Bedbugs Bite

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

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

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

Continued

Signs of Infestation

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

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

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

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

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

Bedbug Treatments

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

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

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

Continued

Bedbug Extermination

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

Bed bugs: Who gets and causes

Who gets bed bugs?

Anyone can get bed bugs. An infestation can happen even if your home is spotless. Getting bed bugs has nothing to do with good hygiene and housekeeping.

How do you get bed bugs?

People get bed bugs when they bring bed bugs home with them. It’s easy to do, and you probably won’t notice until you get a few bed bug bites. The bugs can crawl into luggage, clothing, and onto other personal items without anyone noticing.

Places that can have bed bug infestations include:

Hotels, motels, and cruise ships

Apartment buildings and condominiums

Hospitals and nursing homes

Buses and trains

You also can bring bed bugs into your home in a secondhand mattress or other piece of used furniture.

Bringing home just a few bed bugs can quickly turn into an infestation because:

A female bed bug lays between 200 and 500 eggs during its lifetime

The bed bug’s lifespan ranges from 6 to 24 months

A bed bug can survive for 12 months or longer without feeding

References
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Joint statement on bed bug control in the United States from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).” Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010

Fallen, RS, Gooderham, M. “bed bugs: an update on recognition and management.”Skin Therapy Lett. 2011; 16:5-7.

Steen CJ, Carbonaro PA, Schwartz RA. “Arthropods in dermatology.”J Am Acad Dermatol2004; 50:819-42.

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How to Get Rid of Bed Bug Bites

Restless nights are a common occurrence in bedbug infested homes due to bed bug bites that cause itchy welts. These pesky little pests generally feed on your blood at night, the peak time being about 1 hour before sunrise.

Their bites resemble other insect bites and usually appear in rows or clusters of three to five bites.They are more common on exposed areas like the face, neck, arms and hands.

While some people may not even realize they were bitten, others may develop symptoms like red itchy bumps and rashes.

Some people may develop an allergic reaction with painful swelling and burning at the bite site, engorged bite marks and, in very rare cases, an anaphylactic response. Bed bug bites do not usually transmit diseases, but excessive itching and scratching may cause a skin infection.

The first thing that you need to do when dealing with bed bug bites is towash the affected area with a mild antiseptic soap and water. This will reduce itching and prevent a skin infection. If not scratched, they tend to resolve within a week or so.

However, see a dermatologist if you develop a skin infection, blisters or an allergic skin reaction.

Here are the top 10 ways to get rid of bed bug bites.

1. Ice Pack

The cold temperature from ice can help numb the nerve endings, thus relieving the itching sensation caused by bed bug bites. It will also help calm the swelling.

  1. Wrap a few ice cubes in a thin towel.
  2. Place it on the affected area.
  3. Remove it after 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Repeat as needed.

2. Baking Soda

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, helps neutralize acidic chemicals that could be causing the itching from a bed bug bite. Being an anti-inflammatory agent, it also helps reduce swelling and redness.

  1. Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 3 teaspoons of water.
  2. Apply the mixture generously on the affected area.
  3. Leave it on for about 10 minutes before rinsing it off.
  4. If the discomfort persists, apply again after 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Lemon Juice

Being a natural astringent, lemon juice helps dry out rashes caused by bed bug bites and keeps itching at bay. Plus, its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties help reduce redness and swelling as well as prevent infection.

  1. Dip a cotton ball in lemon juice.
  2. Dab it on the bed bug bites.
  3. Let it air dry, then rinse the affected area.
  4. Do this a few times a day.

Note:Lemon juice may make your skin susceptible to sunburn. Do not go out in the sun for a few hours after using this remedy.

4. Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is a liquid astringent that you can get from a drug store. Mostly used as a facial cleanser, it can also help calm itching caused by bed bug bites because it contains tannins that have a mild anesthetic effect.

  1. Soak a cotton ball in witch hazel.
  2. Place it on the affected area.
  3. Remove the cotton ball after 10 minutes.
  4. Repeat as needed.

5. Aloe Vera Gel

Succulent aloe vera gel is soothing for your skin. Its active compounds and amino acids help ease itching and burning caused by bed bug and other insect bites. It also aids healing the skin by keeping it moisturized.

  1. Rinse an aloe vera leaf and slit it open.
  2. Scoop out the gel and apply it on your bed bug bites.
  3. Store the remaining gel in the refrigerator. Apply it a few times a day for a couple of days.

6. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is another effective remedy for bed bug bites as it helps relieve itching and burning, thanks to its acetic acid content with anti-inflammatory properties. If you do not have apple cider vinegar, you can use white vinegar.

  1. Apply raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar on the affected area.
  2. Allow it to dry, then rinse your skin.
  3. If the symptoms persist, reapply after a few hours.

7. Oatmeal

Due to its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, oatmeal is an excellent solution to reduce skin irritation and itching caused by bed bug and other insect bites as well as skin issues like eczema and psoriasis.

  • Mix some water in a few teaspoons of oatmeal to make a paste. Apply it on the affected area, and leave it on for at least 15 minutes before rinsing it off. Repeat a few times for a couple of days.
  • You can also prepare an oatmeal bath by mixing ½ cup of colloidal oatmeal (finely ground oatmeal) in warm bathwater. You can add a few drops of peppermint essential oil, too. Soak in this bath for 15 minutes. Do this for a couple of days.

8. Toothpaste

Toothpaste is another effective remedy for bed bug bites. It contains cooling menthol that helps reduce the itching and burning sensations. Make sure you use white toothpaste, not a gel version, for this purpose.

  1. Dab a little white toothpaste on the affected area.
  2. Leave it on for 10 minutes, then rinse it off.
  3. Repeat as needed.

9. Tea Bags

Moist tea bags can also help combat the itching and swelling caused by bed bug and other insect bites. They contain tannins with astringent and mild anesthetic properties.

  1. Cool a moist, used tea bag in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Place it on the affected area for about 15 minutes.
  3. Repeat as needed.

10. Cucumber

Cucumber peels and slices can also provide relief from itching and swelling caused by bed bug bites as they contain vitamin C and caffeic acid that offer anti-inflammatory benefits.

  1. Simply place a piece of cucumber peel or slice on the affected area and leave it on for at least 10 to 15 minutes. For a more soothing effect, cool the pieces in the refrigerator first.
  2. Repeat as needed.

Additional Tips

  • Avoid bed bug bites by getting rid of the infestation.
  • Resist the urge to scratch the bites as it may lead to a skin infection.
  • Apply essential oils like peppermint, eucalyptus, lavender, tea tree or basil oil mixed in carrier oil to reduce redness and itching. The strong smell of essential oil also helps repel bed bugs.
  • Applying a mixture of equal parts of cold milk and water can also help relieve itching.

Comments 8

maybe this will help

Alcohol on bottom of your feet will cool your body down.

Great post to explain the various treatment of bed bug bites like ice packs, lemon juice, aloe vera gel, etc. Bed bug bites are really very painful and cause serve itching which can result in skin infection as well. So, appropriately treating a bed bug bite needs a bit knowledge of pain relieving methods and things.

If you stayed at hotel and traveled home can the bed bugs spread

Yes they will and can

It really helps

I got them from a guest who came over to visit,they stayed in a higher end Hotel ,not a low rent place…Unreal .

We had an exterminator come over and it took 3 treatments . THE BUGS CAME BACK ! So,we went out bought a new house,furniture,clothing etc and 5 years no bugs in new home..Bought 2 new cars (I own 2 collector cars I got detailed and cleaned no bugs in them)….

Now we are shut ins lol and dont allow guests to our home lol..We moved 1 hour away from town and have property now and 1 hour min away from most people we know..We go and visit them..When we return home from shopping/visits etc,we go into the 1st room and change,put our clothing in the laundry machine and check for bugs then put clean home clothing on .

We exterminated our old house,called junk to pick up our furniture (it wasnt lower end items either 8 year old $140,000 furnishings it cost) sold the empty home and hope they had no problem.. We did get the empty house exterminated and told the junk collection we had bugs,I bet they kept our old furnishings as it was beautiful stuff …It made us crazy,those damn bugs…One night 12 bites on my neck,forehead and hands !! I still feel like bugs are crawling on me,I think we need psychiatric care…It took about 1 year to get over the feeling of bugs crawling on us…

Time the country gets ddt back,thats what made bed bugs all die and were not a problem,now everyone within 10 years will have serious infestations of the bugs,DAMN THEM !

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