Bed bugs (Cimex Lectularius) live by feeding on human blood as their only source of food. At every stage of its life from nymph to adult a bed bug needs a blood feed, resulting in red (often itchy) bumps on our skin – bed bug bites. Bed bugs are nocturnal parasitic insects, attracted by our body heat and the carbon dioxide in our breath. They will hide in cracks and crevices during the day and emerge at night to feed. From hostels to hotel rooms, passenger airlines, bus seats to even libraries, you may find yourselves in contact with bedbugs.
Bedbugs are not known to spread disease, but the bites can become itchy and some people have a greater sensitivity to being bitten by bed bugs, developing a rash that with continued scratching can result in a bacterial infection.
This article will hopefully help you identify bed bug bites and answer some of your questions about bed bug bites in the UK:
Identifying bed bug bites
It isn’t always easy to identify bed bug bites from other insect bites you might find on you. As with most insects, bedbug bites come in the form of small red lumps, or swellings on your skin.
When bedbugs bite, they pierce your skin through a ‘beak’ and they excrete a tiny amount of anesthesia and inject an anti-coagulant to prevent your blood from clotting, so they can easily feed. Quite often it’s a person’s sensitivity to the anti-coagulant that determines the size of the bites and their itchiness.
On average a bed bug feed can take about 10 minutes. However they may take a few attempts to find a suitable blood vessel to feed from. They are also sensitive to movement so will stop feeding if you move, relocate and bite again. As the bed bug feeds, it becomes engorged, and changes colour as it fills with blood.
Depending on your sensitivity to being bitten you may notice bed bug bites within a few hours or not for several days. A minority of people may show no reaction at all to be bitten whilst others react badly with the bites swelling, itching and possibly blistering with a burning sensation.
What do bed bug bites look like?
Bed bugs often bite in close lines or clusters on exposed skin. If there are several areas of bites, it often means that you have been bitten by more than one bed bug. These small red, raised lumps can vary in size and itchiness depending on an individual’s sensitivity to bites.
You can usually find evidence of bed bugs by understanding the common signs of bed bugs and knowing where to look.
Where do bed bugs bite?
Bedbugs usually bite on areas of the body that are not covered by bedding whilst you are sleeping. You are most likely to find bites on:
- head and face
- neck and shoulders
- arms and legs
Even your hands, knees and elbows can be bitten by bed bugs.
Flea bites vs bed bug bites?
Flea bites and bedbug bites tend to be similar in size; however flea bites have tiny dark spots, surrounded by a red area, whilst bed bug bites usually appear as red lumps that can sometimes blister if you are particularly sensitive to their bites.
Also fleas tend to bite in random clusters, usually around the ankles, lower legs and wrists (easiest to reach and most exposed areas) with itching felt within a short time of the bite. In contrast bed bugs will tend to bite in linear rows on exposed skin during the night. The bites will not itch until the effects of the anesthetic used by the bed bug fade which can take a few hours to several days.
Bed bug bites vs Mosquito bites?
Bedbug bites can also be mistaken for mosquito bites. There are, however, some differences between the two. Mosquito bites are often random and isolated on any area of your body. They are immediately visible and begin to itch right after the sting. They usually appear as white, hard raised lumps, before reducing to a small red bump.
How to get rid of bed bug bites
There are many natural remedies and ‘old wives tales’ on what you can use to help reduce the inflammation and itching associated with bed bug bites.
- Calamine lotion: relieves itching and also helps to dry rashes and protect the skin.
- Baking soda and water: make a paste with baking soda and water and apply it directly to the skin. Let it dry before wiping away with a cotton pad.
- Toothpaste: menthol contained in toothpaste is said to be a good anti-itch remedy. Apply a generous amount to the bite to soothe the burning sensation and relieve the itching.
- Witch Hazel: provides a mild anesthetic effect that helps to calm the itching caused by bites.
- Aloe Vera: (either “fresh” or gel) works well against insect bites. The active substances and amino acids present in Aloe Vera help relieve itching and burning sensations.
- Lemon juice: has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It is also a natural astringent. Lemon juice can help dry rashes and itchiness while reducing redness and swelling.
General medical advice for initially treating bed bug bites:
Start by washing the bites with soap and water. This will help to prevent a skin infection and help reduce the itching.
If the bites continue to itch, you can apply a mild steroid cream (such as hydrocortisone) to the affected area or take antihistamine tablets to relieve the itch, which can be purchased at a pharmacy. Anything stronger will require a visit to the Doctors and a prescription.
See your GP if you develop signs of a skin infection (pain, redness and swelling) as you may need antibiotics.
How to remove a bed bug infestation
There are several DIY options to help reduce the numbers of bed bugs in your home, however these are unlikely to eradicate an established infestation completely. We also have some tips on how to prevent bed bugs.
- Inspect – check bed bug hot spots such as mattress seams, bed frames, headboards, along the edge of carpets, and nearby furniture (cabinets, drawers, armchairs, sofas) for live insects.
- Wash – wash infested bedding at a high temperature of at least 60℃ for ideally 90 minutes minimum.
- Heat – If possible, place items into a tumble dryer for minimum 30 minute cycle.
- Vacuum – vacuum your bed, mattress, and any area near to where you have spotted bed bugs. Use the hose attachments to clean along walls and around edges. Afterwards, take the vacuum outside of your property to empty into an outside bin and seal securely.
Although these steps can help to control the problem, they do not guarantee to eliminate a bed bug infestation completely. The most effective solution for complete bed bug eradication is by an expert, professionally qualified pest controller.