Bed bugs: an overview and more

Bed bugs have been resurrected all over the world, and these blood-sucking insects (both Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus ) are a problem in many homes and hotels. Fortunately , bed bugs do not transmit contagious diseases. However, it is difficult to eradicate the infestation and you will need to take steps to prevent bed bugs from reaching your home. Learn to identify and treat these pests.

Verivell / Emily Roberts

Bed bug symptoms

Bed bug bites often appear as small, raised, red, itchy spots on exposed skin, usually a few days after the actual bite. However , some children and adults do not react to stings at all, even after repeated exposure.

The bites look the same as other insect bites and can be seen in the following images:

  • Rash
  • Bite line
  • Accumulation of bites

If you scratch the bites, you can develop a skin infection. In rare cases, a more severe allergic reaction to the sting can lead to larger scars, blisters, or anaphylaxis. Bed bugs can also cause asthma attacks, and too frequent bites can lead to anemia . Anxiety , insomnia, and sleep disorders often stem from the stress of spotting bed bugs.

Bed bugs bite behind the back. Joel Carille / Owner of Getty Images
Bed bug bites. Joel Carille / Getty Images
Bed bug bites. Joel Carille / Getty Images

Causes

Bed bugs are small flightless insects that only feed on blood. They prefer humans, but can feed on domestic and farm animals. They feed at night and hide from light, especially in the seams and crevices around the bed.

There is no direct link between poor sanitation and bed bug infestation. An impeccably clean living space is just as vulnerable as a dirty one.

As a general rule, sleeping in a place where multiple people have slept increases the risk. You may be especially suspicious of bed bugs if you or your child:

  • Recently visited
  • He slept on a used mattress or sat on used furniture.
  • You live in an apartment building where bed bugs can infect another apartment and move into yours.
  • You live or have recently spent time in a college dorm.
  • Every night new unexplained bites appear
  • You can see bed bugs hidden in the seams or crevices of a mattress or box spring, along the edge of the carpet, outside the picture frames, and hidden in the recesses of the furniture.

Diagnostics

Bed bugs are diagnosed by the appearance of bites and the detection of bed bugs in the home. Bites are often indistinguishable from other insect bites, so it is important to take a close look at your bedroom if you have a skin reaction.

You can identify bed bug infestations by checking bedding, mattress seams, furniture, and wall lights for bed bugs or bed bug marks.Each mature bed bug is about the size of an apple seed and measures approximately 1/4 inch long.

John Downer / Getty Images

Instead, you will often see their droppings, which are small brown or red specks. You can also see tiny blood stains on the sheet or mattress if the bug is squashed after eating.

Eggs the same size as adults can be seen in the seams or crevices, and their exoskeletons can be seen shedding. There may also be a sweet musty smell from your pheromones .

cerobit / Getty Images

Similar conditions

Bed bug bites can mimic other insect bites and skin problems. If you don't find any traces of bed bugs in your home, you may have been bitten by another insect or have another skin condition.

Other potential sources of a skin reaction can include:

  • Flea, mosquito , tick , chigger , or spider bites – All of these insect bites are difficult to distinguish from insect bites. If you have pets or the bites are mostly concentrated on the lower body, such as the feet and ankles, you should look for fleas. If you've recently spent time outdoors, especially near standing water, wooded areas, or tall grass, mosquitoes or ticks may be the cause.
  • Scabies : This infection, caused by a parasitic mite, causes intense itching and is spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. The mites burrow under the skin to lay eggs, often in the folds of the skin that cause bumpy rashes when they hatch. The itching may intensify at night.
  • Allergic rash or contact dermatitis : These skin reactions can occur after contact with an irritant such as perfumes or chemicals in soaps, detergents, body sprays, or lotions. It can also be caused by plants like poison ivy . Red rashes are concentrated in areas of the body that have been in direct contact with an irritant or allergen. An allergic reaction can also be secondary to insect bites .
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis) Red, dry, scaly patches often develop that can become scabs. Eczema can occur anywhere on the body, but it is often concentrated on the back of the knees or in the creases of the elbows.
  • Staph infection: This infection occurs when Staphyloccocus bacteria enter the body through broken skin, such as through a cut or wound. This area can be tender or painful.
  • Reactions to antibiotics: Several days after taking an antibiotic, hives or an irregular rash may appear.
  • Chickenpox : This viral infection causes red blisters to appear anywhere on the body and is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms.

Watch out

Treatment for bed bugs includes caring for the bites and removing parasites. Stings heal naturally and nothing can help speed them up. You can use over-the-counter products to relieve itching, but you may need a prescription if you develop a skin infection from scratching. Common treatments include :

  • Topical antipruritic and anti-inflammatory drugs such as calamine lotion, cortisone cream, and diphenhydramine cream.
  • Oral antihistamines such as Benadryl ( diphenhydramine hydrochloride) or Atarax (hydroxyzine), a prescription antihistamine.
  • Antiseptic or antibiotic topical lotion for bacterial infections or oral antibiotics

While bed bug bites are not difficult to heal, getting rid of bed bugs is another matter. A professional wrestler can help with this.

You will need to dispose of contaminated mattresses, box springs, and pillows. You can heat or cool items such as clothing by washing or freezing them. However, you will need to treat the room to get rid of bed bugs that can live in cracks in walls, floors, and furniture.

To minimize your risk, you can:

  • Buy new furniture instead of used furniture.
  • Repair cracks and crevices in sleeping areas
  • Place mattresses under a protective cover.

Verywell's Word

Dealing with bed bugs is stressful and frustrating, but it is not the only one that solves this problem. Remember , this does not affect how thoroughly you clean your home or take precautions when traveling. Make sure you take care of any stress that may arise so you don't lose too much sleep.

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