Bed bug bite sores may appear as raised, itchy bumps and occur anywhere from a few seconds to several weeks following a bite. Antihistamines and hydrocortisone may help reduce itching and irritation.
There are several ways to reduce the chances of getting bitten by bed bugs. 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 1 in 5 Americans have dealt with a bed bug infestation or know someone who has encountered the pests.
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. Some people may be hypersensitive to bites and develop more severe symptoms.
Itchy welts can occur within a few days of a bite but may take up to 14 days. People may become increasingly sensitive to bed bug bites and develop a reaction quicker the more bites they get, sometimes within seconds. 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 or purplish 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.
On light skin tones, bed bug bites usually look pink or red. On darker skin tones, they may be purple and less noticeable.
While fairly rare, some people develop severe reactions and symptoms from bed bug bites. Serious symptoms that require medical attention include:
Read about identifying fleabites and bed bug bites.
Bed bugs can bite on any area of skin. Typically, bites tend to occur on areas exposed during sleeping, such as:
Living with bed bugs can cause additional health complications:
- Increased likelihood of infection: Infection is more likely when there is damage to the skin’s surface.
- Sleep deprivation: Anxiety about bedbugs actively feeding during the night can be stressful. Some people may avoid sleep or will only get fitful or restless sleep.
- Decreased well-being: Repeated poor sleep may be linked to depression, anxiety, general fatigue, and lowered immune function. Misconceptions about bed bugs, especially the mistaken association with a lack of cleanliness, can worsen these problems.
There are relatively few treatment options when it comes to uncomplicated bed bug bites.
The first line of treatment involves cleaning the wound, ideally with soap and water.
The following treatments may relieve minor bite symptoms:
- over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone
- anti-itch creams
A person should seek medical attention if severe swelling, inflammation, or itchiness occurs or persists.
A dramatic immune response may be a sign of an allergic reaction. If this is the case, a person may need the following treatments:
- an injectable corticosteroid
- epinephrine medication
If infection occurs, doctors may prescribe antibiotics.
Severe itchiness may result in further complications, such as infection or scarring. If people experience severe itching, a doctor may prescribe corticosteroid creams and antihistamine pills or liquid.
Knowing how to identify bedbugs may help prevent exposure and potential infestations.
Common characteristics of nymphs (young bed bugs) include:
- less than 5 mm in length
- whitish-yellow or clear-colored
- invisible without a microscope or magnifying glass
The nymphs are easier to see if they have just fed and have blood filling their abdomen. This gives them a reddish brown color.
Adult bed bugs are typically easier to spot than nymphs. Characteristics of most adult bed bugs include:
- an oval-shaped body
- the size of an apple seed
- a body that is fairly flat until it feeds
- reddish-brown to light-brown or tan
- 5–7 millimeters (mm) long
- 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 involves identifying and removing or destroying the eggs.
Characteristics of bed bug eggs include:
- tiny barrel-shaped, pearl-colored specks, no bigger than the head of a pin
- an eye-like spot may develop after a few days
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, as can vacuum canisters.
The insects tend to pick hiding spots near bedrooms. Bed bugs found in other rooms usually indicate a severe infestation.
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
- 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.
Learn how to get rid of bed bugs.
Below are some commonly asked questions about bed bug bites.
How do you tell if a bite is from a bed bug?
A person can tell if a bite is from a bed bug by the following:
- Bites usually appear on areas of skin exposed while sleeping, such as the face, neck, and arms.
- Spots of blood will be visible on a person’s bedding. This is from the bites or from squashing the bedbug while sleeping.
- Small brown spots will appear on bedding or furniture. This is bedbug poo.
- On white skin, bedbug bites usually look red.
- On black or brown skin, bed bugs may look purple and may be harder to see.
How long does bed bug bite stay?
Bed bug bites usually heal and go away within a week or two.
How do you get rid of bed bug bites overnight?
To get rid of bug bites promptly, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends:
- 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. A weak form of this medication is available at local drugstores and does not require a prescription.
Bed bugs typically hide in bedrooms and feed on human blood during the night. The resulting bite can take up to 14 days to appear but may develop within seconds.
Treatment for bed bug bites may include hydrocortisone, anti-itch creams, and antihistamines. If infection occurs due to scratching, doctors may prescribe antibiotics.