What are bedbugs?

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are tiny parasites that bite people and animals to get blood for food. Most bites happen while you’re asleep.

Bed bugs are flat, brown or reddish brown, and about the size of an apple seed. A female bed bug lays 200 to 500 eggs during her lifetime, so even a few bed bugs in your home can quickly turn into an infestation.

Bed bug.

Bed bug eggs are very small, about the size of a pinhead. They are pearly white in color. If an egg is more than five days old, it is marked with an eye spot.

On average, bed bugs live from six to 24 months. Bed bugs usually feed every three to seven days but can survive several months to a year without feeding.

What types of buildings and places are bed bugs found?

Bed bugs are found in all types of locations, from five-star hotels to homes and apartments to dormitories and shelters. They are found in buses and trains and ships. Bed bugs are found in all corners of the globe.

How did bed bugs get into my home?

Anyone can get bed bugs. Unfortunately, bed bugs infestations are possible even if you keep your living space spotless! Bed bugs are excellent hitchhikers. They can come into your home on luggage, folded clothing, bedding including used mattresses and other used furniture items and boxes. If people under your roof frequently travel and share living and sleeping space, you are at greater risk of bringing home these unwanted pests.

Where are bed bugs found inside my home?

Usually, bed bugs live within eight feet of where you sleep at night and are mostly active at night. During the day, bed bugs hide in the areas in and around your bed – along the seams of your mattress, in your box spring, bedframe and headboard – and between and along the seams of cushions of bedroom chairs or couches. They can also be found in the joints of drawers of bedroom furniture and in any cracks, crevices or folds of objects in your bedroom or near your bed. Bed bugs can also be found along corners of walls, inside the edges of loose wallpaper and around electrical outlets.

How do I know if I have a bed bug problem?

Your first obvious sign might be a bed bug bite. Other signs of a bed bug problem to look for include:

  • A sweet, musty odor.
  • Reddish or rust colored stains on bed sheets or your sleepwear.
  • Bed bug poop, which appears as dark reddish or rust-colored spots on bedding or nearby objects.
  • Bed bug exoskeletons (the skeleton they shed after molting).

Live bed bugs in the folds of bed sheets and mattresses

What does a bed bug bite feel like?

Just as you probably don’t feel a spider bite while you’re sleeping, you probably won’t feel a bed bug bite either. Bed bugs have another defense system that prevents you from feeling you’ve been bitten. Bed bugs inject an anesthetic (numbing) and an anticoagulant (stops bleeding) into your skin when they bite. You may not notice you’ve been bitten until the bite marks appear, which can take from one to a couple days after the bites.

What do bed bug bites look like? What are the signs and symptoms of bed bug bites?

Bed bug bite marks appear on your face, neck, arms, hands or any other exposed skin while you are sleeping. People have different reactions to bed bug bites. Some people may not develop any mark from a bite. Most people develop marks similar to mosquito or flea bites – slightly swollen marks with a reddish bruise in the middle that itch or irritate. Bite marks often appear in a straight line but can be a random pattern. In some people, the itching can be severe.

What are the health effects of bed bug bites?

In most people, bed bug bites don’t cause any serious health problems and the bite marks disappear within a few weeks. In some people, bite marks may be enlarged or more painful swollen welts, and are more painful and itchy.

In rare cases, bed bug bites can cause serious reactions in some people. Signs of a serious, even life-threatening, reaction (called anaphylaxis) to bed bug bites include:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Swollen tongue.
  • Blisters.
  • Fever.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Feeling extremely sick.

Other health problems from bed bug bites include:

  • Insomnia.
  • Anxiety.
  • Possible skin infections from tears in your skin caused by vigorous itching.

Do bed bugs spread disease?

No, bed bugs don’t spread disease. Bed bugs don’t carry disease that infects you, nor can you spread the bite rash you get to others.

How do I treat bed bug bites?

Fortunately, bed bug bites don’t usually present a serious threat. The best way to treat bed bug bites is to wash them gently with soap and water, then apply an anti-itch cream or lotion (look for hydrocortisone 1%) to your skin while avoiding use on your face. Do this daily or twice daily if itching is annoying. If this is the case, your healthcare provider may prescribe a stronger steroid cream or recommend that you take an over-the-counter or prescription antihistamine medication.

It’s important to avoid scratching bed bug bites as much as possible. Scratching the bites can lead to skin tears and infections.

How long does it take for bed bug bites to heal?

Bed bug bites usually heal within a week.

How do I get rid of my bed bug infestation?

Wash your clothing, sheets and blankets with hot soapy water and then dry them on high heat for 20 minutes. Bed bugs can also be killed at temperatures under 32 °F (0 °C), but the items would have to be frozen for days. In any case, you’ll probably need – or want – to hire an exterminator who uses insecticide spray to kill bed bugs and their eggs. If you rent, you should contact your landlord for information.

Can bed bug bites be prevented?

You can best prevent bed bug bites by frequently inspecting your home for signs of the presence of bed bugs. You can also lower your risk of bringing home bed bugs by following these simple steps:

  • Encase mattresses and box springs in protective plastic covers.
  • Vacuum frequently, especially in areas near where people sleep.
  • Cut down on clutter in your home, which will eliminate some hiding places for bed bugs.
  • If you live in an apartment or other shared housing, try to close off your unit. Seal cracks around baseboards, light sockets and doors to prevent bed bugs from coming into your home.
  • If you are traveling, inspect your room for signs of bed bugs. Be sure to check the bed (pull back the sheets/check mattress) and all upholstered furniture in your hotel room/stay space. Inspect your luggage before packing for your return trip home.
  • Upon returning home from traveling, wash all clothing immediately using hot soapy water and dry on high heat for 20 minutes.
  • Check all used furniture and mattresses you purchase before bringing them into your home.
  • Carefully inspect all used clothing and fabric items before you buy. Immediately wash these items in hot soapy water and dry on high heat for 20 minutes.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/14/2021.

References

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bed Bugs FAQs. (https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/bedbugs/faqs.html) Accessed 1/13/2021.
  • American Academy of Dermatology. Bed bugs: Who Gets and Causes. (https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/itchy-skin/bedbugs) Accessed 1/13/2021.
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency. Introduction to Bed Bugs. (https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/introduction-bed-bugs) Accessed 1/13/2021.

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