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How to Recognize and Treat Bed Bug Bite Symptoms

"Reactions to bed bug bites and the related symptoms vary widely. Most common symptom is an itchy welt. Secondary symptoms are infection from scratching and asthma if there is a more chronic allergic reaction.

Bed bug bite symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction to a bed bug salivary protein. Bites are allergic reactions can can vary from person to person.  They can also get more severe each time a person is bitten.   Some people show no reaction at all, while others can develop small red inflamed areas , large red wheals or blisters. The center of a bedbug bite where the puncture of the skin actually occurs is clear.  

All reactions usually itch.  Symptoms that appear within 1 hour to 1 day resolve themselves in 3 to 4 days.  Symptoms that appear in 1 to 14 days take 2 to 5 days to clear. Typical reactions are 2-5 mm in size.

If bites do not heal, or if there are signs of infection such as puss or crusts, then medical attention is needed. Note that bed bug bites may be indistinguishable from bites of other anthropods (insects)."

Bed Bug Bite Symptoms on Back, Stomach, Arm and Leg(starting top left)
Bed Bug Bites on Back, Stomach, Arm and Leg.

Overview

Bed bugs hatch from eggs and them move through multiple life stages. They can bite a host after being hatched. The insects are not actually biting the skin, but puncturing it in one place.  Each "bite" is accomplished with a sharp stylet which projects from the head. 

Each feeding period lasts 3 to 15 minutes.  Bedbugs leave their hiding place and usually bite exposed skin areas such as the neck, legs and shoulders just before dawn.  It is rare for bed bug bites to occur on the bottoms of the feet or on areas that are covered by clothing.  If bites are limited to the feet, the problem is usually scabies, a problem caused by mites. 

Typical bed bug bite symptoms are raised red round rashes that are 3/8 inch in diameter.  Most bites itch.  To help with itch either purchase an over the counter insect itch cream or you can purchase one made specifically to soothe skin bitten by bed bugs offered by Aveeno.

 When bedbug bites are scratched, a secondary infection could set in from breaking the skin with a finger nail.  If symptoms do not go away by themselves in several days, or if the reaction looks infected such as having puss or crusts, then see a Doctor for an anti-biotic cream or oral anti-biotic.

bed bug bite patterns

Bed bugs often bite in a row, which occurs when an arm or leg is alongside an insect hiding place such as a bed seam. The papules pictured below are a typical bite reaction.  It is possible for a single bite to be a bedbug bite.

Pictures of bed bugs bite symptoms

Bed Bug Bites on Arm.
bed bug bite single line pattern on legBed Bug Bites on Leg.

bed bug bite skin reactions

Bed bug bite skin reactions can range from no reaction at all to reactions such as blistering of the skin. A light skin reaction is known as a macule.  The reaction depicted below occurred 1 hour after the skin was punctured by the bedbug.

bed bug skin symptoms on arm after one hourBed Bug Bite Skin Reaction After One Hour
circular bed bug bite patternCircular Bed Bug Bite Skin Pattern Reaction

rare symptoms

In people that are very allergic to the anesthetic, anticoagulant compounds  in bed bug saliva, blisters could form on the arm.

bed bug bite blisters in single row patternBed Bug Bite Blister Skin Pattern Reaction Symptoms

A chronic or severe allergic reaction could result in asthma, hives (urticaria) or in very rare cases anaphylaxis which results in difficulty breathing and possibly even death, although again, this is rare.

If repeatedly bitten by a large infestation, then a person can suffer from mild anemia, which is a low number of red blood cells. Symptoms include paleness, shortness of breath and feeling tired.

Bite reaction treatment

Care for bites is supportive and includes antihistamines, corticosteroids and antibiotics. Most patients with symptoms see a resolution within two weeks (Goddard and deShazo 2009). The only "cure" is to eliminate the infestation from your home.

Topical treatments such as those used for head lice or scabies are ineffective against bed bugs. Gasoline and alcohol also does not work on the insects. Bed bugs do not live on people.

killing bedbugs in your home

Bed bugs are very difficult to remove from a home or apartment.  Several types of products are needed to kill both the bedbugs and their eggs. 

Professionals have an edge in that they know how to find the bedbug's hiding places and they have the experience, and possibly better chemical and non-chemical approaches.  The downside is cost which can include a payment for an on site inspection ($50 - $100 - more if bedbug sniffing do is used) and payment for the treatment itself ($500 - $1000+).   

We suggest speaking to several companies since each one might use a different method and vary by cost. An easy way to do this is to call eLocal at (877) 673-2704.

You can also search our bed bug exterminator database.

If planning to do it yourself, and if you have patience and time, then a kit, such as the one offered by Bed Bug Supply is a good choice. This company only sells kits with products proven to kill insecticide resistant bed bugs.

Products such as Bed Bug Bombs do not work and chase the insects into the walls. Only buy a kit from a reputable company that sells proven products designed for indoor use.

Note that there is currently no evidence to support the effectiveness of insect repellents against bed bugs. 



FAQ

How do you know if you have been bitten by bed bugs?

Bed bug bites are often indistinguishable from other anthropods. Bite reactions are usually 2mm to 3mm in size, are red and raised on skin exposed areas during sleep.

Do bed bugs bite every night?

Bed bugs can bite several times a night until fed. Once fed they bite every one or two weeks.

Can bed bugs make you sick?

Bed bugs do not carry diseases that can spread to humans. You can have secondary reactions such as infection after itching a bite, or in rare cases an allergic reaction such as asthma.

How long does a bed bug bite last?

A bed bug bite will heal with no treatment will last up to two weeks.

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references

Bed Bugs (Cimex lectularius) and Clinical Consequences of Their Bites; Goddard, Jerome, PhD; deShazo, Richard, MD.

The Connecticut Agricultural Extension - Connecticut Coalition Against Bed Bugs (CCABB).

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