How to treat bed bug bites

Bed bugs. The mere mention of it can make your skin tingle. These little creatures are all too common with …

Bed bugs. The mere mention of it can make your skin tingle.

These little critters are all too common, according to a survey by the National Pest Management Association. One in five people in the United States have a history of an infestation or know someone who has met them at home or while traveling. Bed bug bites are almost always harmless unless they get infected. But that doesn’t make them more comfortable.

If you suspect you have bed bug bites, what is the best way to treat them? When do you have to see a doctor if you have bed bug bites? Here is some more information.

Signs and symptoms of a bed bug bite

There are a few signs that will lead you to believe you have bed bug bites, including the following:

Bites that appear after sleeping. Bed bugs are most active in the dark, says Dr. Adam Friedman, Professor and Chair of Dermatology at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, DC

Reddish bites on skin exposed at nightlike your arms, hands, neck, or torso, says Dr. Annie Gonzalez, a certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami.


Three bites that appear in a row. Friedman calls this a “breakfast, lunch, dinner” pattern. This is because the bed bug bites in one area and then migrates to the other areas to feed on a little more blood. Without this pattern, it can be difficult to distinguish bed bug bites from other insect bites like mosquito and spider bites, Gonzalez says.

Appearance of “black pepper” spots on your sheets or mattress, says New York-based Dr. Tania Elliott, a certified allergist and internist and a national spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. This is what the beetles look like to the naked eye.

Small droplets of blood on your sheet where you were bitten from.

Don’t rule out bed bugs if you are sleeping with a partner and only one of you is bitten. Bed bugs are attracted to carbon dioxide that we exhale when we breathe. You and others in your home can have different levels of carbon dioxide, Friedman says. This can make them prefer to prefer one person over the other.

Although mattresses are the main place you can find bed bugs, they can live on other types of furniture, including upholstered furniture in a home or office. When a place is heavily infested, they can even be found in sneaky areas like loose wallpaper and electrical outlets. They can’t fly, but they’ll be removed 5 to 20 feet from a hideout to bite a host, Gonzalez says. Don’t rule out furniture in public places like movie theaters or public transportation as a source of bed bug bites.

[READ: First Aid for Insect and Spider Bites and Stings.]

At home and over-the-counter treatments for bed bugs

If you suspect you may have bed bug bites, do your best to confirm the presence of the bugs. Look for some of the characters described above. Friedman also recommends turning off the lights at night and waiting 10 minutes. Then use a flashlight to inspect your mattress to see if it came out.

If you find bed bugs, pull the sheets out of your bed and wash and dry them in the hottest temperatures, maybe even more than once. The heat will kill the beetles. Also contact an exterminator and follow their instructions. If you live in an apartment, inform the landlord.

Bed bugs do not transmit disease to humans. Of course, the bites are bothersome and could become infected, and you don’t want them to multiply and infest.

For the bed bug bites themselves, there are a few steps you can take to relieve the itching and prevent infection:

1. Don’t scratch them. “If you scratch an inflamed area, the chances of getting an infection go up,” says Friedman. Another reason not to scratch that itch: irritated bites can sometimes leave dark marks on the skin that you may not want there.

2. Use ice packs several times a day to calm the bites and relieve itching.

3. Moisturize the affected skin. Moisturizing can have a cooling effect, which is also said to help reduce itching.

4th Use over-the-counter topical creams or products that may help relieve itching. This can include products with:

– antihistamines.

– Calamine lotion.

– Colloidal oatmeal.

– hydrocortisone 1%.

– lanolin, but not if you are allergic to it. Some people are, says Friedman.

– Sarna, a cream that contains camphor and menthol in its original formula.

These products work best when applied to damp skin. Usually the bites go away after a week or two.

[Read: How to Recognize and Treat Spider Bites.]

When should I see a doctor about bed bug bites?

If your home remedies for bed bug bites don’t work after a few weeks, or you find yourself getting more bites, it’s time to see a family doctor or dermatologist. There are a few other times when you might want to see a doctor if you suspect bed bug bites:

– Not entirely sure what is causing the bites. Bed bug bites can mimic some other skin conditions too, such as hives.

– You have puffy red skin with hives. An allergic reaction from bed bug bites is rare but still possible, Gonzalez says.

– The bites become more itchy, painful, or pus appears.

Doctors often use a prescription steroid cream for insect bites or an antibiotic when an infection is present.

[READ: A Patient’s Guide to Skin Diseases.]

Tips for preventing bed bugs while traveling

With bed bugs, which are commonly associated with travel, there are a few tips you can follow to avoid bed bug bites on the go:

1. Do not put your luggage on the bed. Once you’ve got your luggage there for a minute or two, you should be safe. The important point is not to leave luggage on the bed for long periods of time or overnight if the bugs have a tendency to come out, Friedman says. Instead, look for the fold-out luggage rack usually found in hotel rooms, made of wood and canvas. If nobody is in the room, ask for one.

2. Look for bed bugs before you lie down, Elliott advises. Look behind the mattress and sheet. You can even pull out the entire bed and reassemble it after the exam. She also suggests not lying on mattresses in a mattress store when shopping. For extra protection, place something clean between you and the mattress, such as a sheet.

3. Beware of a room with a stale, musty, or sweet smell. That could be a sign of an infestation, says Gonzalez.

4th If you find bed bugs in your room, inform the manager and either change rooms or hotels. Plan to wash and dry all of your belongings in hot temperatures. Consider posting a review or writing a letter about the service you received and whether or not it was helpful.

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