Scabies and bed bugs are parasitic insects that cause itching and other skin symptoms. While bed bugs only sit on top of the skin and bite it to feed, scabies mites burrow into the skin to live, feed, and lay eggs.

Bed bugs live in dark areas close to where people sleep.

In this article, we explore the difference between bed bugs and scabies, symptoms, treatment options, and how to remove infestations of both.

A person scratching their arm due to bed bugs or scabies.Share on Pinterest
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Bed bugs live in bedding, furniture, or dark cracks and crevices, only coming out to feed, while bed bugs sit on top of the skin and bite to consume blood. Scabies mites reproduce on human skin, then burrow into the skin to live, feed, and lay eggs.

Bed bugs feed on both human and animal blood, and scabies mites only survive on human skin.

Bed bugs are about the size of a poppy seed, and people can see them without a microscope. However, individuals cannot see scabies mites using the naked eye.

People need to eliminate bed bugs from their homes or buildings with pest control. Individuals should see a doctor for medical treatment to remove scabies from their skin.

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs, also known as Cimex lectularius, are small insects that feed on human and animal blood.

Bed bugs are flat, wingless insects with a red-brown color. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say they can be 1–7 millimeters (mm) in size.

Bed bugs usually live close to where a person sleeps, often within 8 feet, only coming out to feed. However, they can travel up to 100 feet during the nighttime. Bed bugs can also survive without blood for several months.

They live in dry, dark places such as mattress seams, bed frames, or cracks or crevices in walls or furniture.

While bed bugs do not spread disease, they cause itching and irritation and may trigger an allergic reaction. In some cases, excessive scratching of bed bug bites may lead to a skin infection.

What are scabies mites?

Scabies mites, also known as Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis or the human itch mite, are microscopic insects.

These mites reproduce on human skin — the female scabies mite then burrows into the skin to live and lay its eggs.

The scabies mite creates tunnels 1–10 mm long within the epidermis — the top layer of skin, and they can lay two to three eggs every day, which take 2–3 weeks to hatch.

The CDC states that scabies mites can live in human skin for up to 2 months — away from humans, they will only live 48–72 hours. They die under exposure to temperatures above 122°F (50°C) for 10 minutes.

Bed bugs and scabies mites both cause itching, but they trigger different symptoms.

Signs of bed bugs

Bed bugs cause bite marks to appear on the body. They usually occur while a person is asleep, and individuals will only notice the bites when they wake up. These marks may appear straight after a bite or up to 14 days later.

Symptoms of bed bugs include:

  • multiple welts, which may appear in a zigzag line
  • bites that may appear red or swollen, similar to a mosquito or flea bite
  • intense itching or irritation
  • small specks of blood on sheets or bedding
  • a sweet, musty odor in the room or sleeping area
  • remains of shells on bedding
  • bed bug excrement, which appears as small, black specks on bedding

Side effects of bed bug bites may include insomnia, anxiety, or skin infections from excessive scratching of bites.

However, some people may not experience any symptoms after bed bug bites. In contrast, others may have an allergic reaction or painful swelling. If a person experiences anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, from bed bug bites, seek immediate medical attention. The symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • trouble breathing
  • mouth swelling
  • sore or tight throat
  • fainting
  • dizziness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • weak pulse

Symptoms of scabies

Symptoms of scabies include:

  • intense itching, particularly at night
  • rash that may look scaly or similar to pimples or blisters
  • visible tiny burrows in the skin, which may appear as tiny raised and crooked lines with a grayish-white or the same color as the surrounding skin

People may experience symptoms across the body or in certain areas, such as the:

  • wrist
  • elbow
  • armpit
  • between the fingers
  • nipple
  • breast
  • shoulder blades
  • waist
  • penis
  • buttocks

Young children or infants may have scabies symptoms on the head, face, neck, palms of hands, or soles of the feet. However, this is less common in older children or adults.

Excessive scratching of a scabies rash may cause skin sores and could lead to a skin infection.

Bed bugs and scabies are usually not serious, but people will need treatment. Both bed bugs and scabies are treatable, and people need to tend to the surrounding areas for bed bugs and the skin for scabies.

Bed bugs

People may treat bed bugs at home and with over-the-counter (OTC) treatments, which include:

  • washing bites with soap and water to prevent itching and infection
  • treating bites with an antiseptic cream or taking antihistamines to reduce itching
  • applying a corticosteroid cream on the bites to help reduce itching.

After treatment, bed bug bites should disappear within 1–2 weeks.

However, if people find that home and OTC treatments are ineffective, or if individuals develop an allergic reaction or infection, they will need to see their doctor for treatment. These treatments can include:

  • injection of antihistamine, corticosteroid, or epinephrine for an allergic reaction
  • antiseptic or antibiotic treatment for an infection
  • prescription antihistamine or corticosteroid for severe itching

People will also need to deal with the bed bug infestation, which usually involves spraying insecticide. Additionally, they may need to contact their landlord or a pest control company to remove the infestation.


People need to see their doctor for scabies treatment. The American Academy of Dermatology Association says that treatment for scabies may include topical medication, such as:

  • 5% permethrin, suitable for pregnant people and children over the age of 2 months
  • 10% crotamiton
  • 25% benzyl benzoate
  • 5-10% sulfur
  • 1% lindane

People in close contact with anyone with scabies will also require treatment, even if they show no signs or symptoms of scabies. This includes those who live or work closely with a person with scabies, including any recent sexual partners.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends the following home treatments for bed bugs:

  • Use heat to kill bed bugs by placing items with the infection in a clothes dryer on high heat or in a sealed, black plastic bag in a hot, closed car.
  • Place items with the infection in a sealed bag and put them in the freezer at 0°F (-17.8°C) for four days.
  • Use a steam cleaner to treat bedding, furniture, carpets, and cracks or crevices. Set the temperature to a minimum of 130°F (54.4°C) and use a diffuser to prevent scattering the bed bugs.

If people have a large bed bug infestation or many items or areas where bed bugs could hide, they may find a pest control company is more effective at removing an infestation.

Scabies mites cannot survive very long without human contact. Therefore, treating the skin with topical medication until all the mites and eggs die off will treat a scabies infestation.

Bed bugs and scabies are both parasitic insects that cause symptoms on the skin. However, they do not carry disease and are usually easily treatable.

People with bed bug bites will need to remove the infestation from their living area with insecticide. They may also need treatment with antiseptic, and antihistamines can ease any itching.

People with scabies will need to see their doctor for topical medication to remove the mites and eggs from the skin. Those in close contact with anyone who has scabies will also require treatment.