Bed bugs are tiny pests that can infest your living space. Bed bug bites, which happen mostly at night while you are sleeping, usually don’t cause serious health problems. They may cause itchy, tiny bite marks. Treatment includes washing your skin gently with soap and water, applying an anti-itch product and taking an antihistamine (if needed).
Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are tiny insects that bite people and animals to get blood for food. They are parasites, meaning they need human hosts to supply them with food. Most bites happen while you’re asleep.
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Bed bugs are flat, brown or reddish-brown insects with six legs. Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed (5-7 mm). Young bed bugs are white-to-yellow in color or appear translucent if they haven't been fed. Bed bug eggs are very small, about the size of a pinhead, and are a pearly white color. If an egg is more than five days old, it’s marked with a black dot on a white egg. A female bed bug lays 200 to 500 eggs during its lifetime, so even a few bed bugs in your home can quickly turn into an infestation.
Bed bugs are found in all types of locations, from five-star hotels to homes and apartments, dormitories and shelters. They’re found in buses and trains and ships. Bed bugs are found in all corners of the globe.
Usually, bed bugs live within eight feet of where you sleep and are mostly active at night.
During the day, bed bugs hide in the areas in and around your bed including:
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.
Your first obvious sign might be a bed bug bite. If you have a bite and want to verify if you have bed bugs, check for signs of an infestation including:
Bed bugs move slower than other small bugs, so pay attention to the speed of the bug you find to help with identification.
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 you live with a lot of people or with people who travel a lot, you are at greater risk of bringing home these unwanted pests.
An estimated 1 in every 5 Americans has either had a bed bug infestation in their home or knows someone who encountered bed bugs in their home or at a hotel. Most pest control professionals report infestations occurring during the summer when travel increases. Often, bed bugs are confused as other pests, like fleas or cockroaches, before being diagnosed by a pest control professional.
Bed bugs can bite anywhere on your skin. They specifically target areas of your skin that make contact with your bed, including your:
Symptoms of bed bug bites include:
Just as you probably don’t feel a spider bite while you’re sleeping, you won’t feel a bed bug bite either. Bed bugs have another defense system that prevents you from feeling you’ve been bitten. They 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 of days after the bites.
In rare cases, bed bug bites can cause serious reactions. Signs of a serious, even life-threatening reaction (called anaphylaxis) to bed bug bites include:
If you experience any severe symptoms as a reaction to a bed bug bite, visit your healthcare provider immediately.
Bed bugs bite each person differently, but the most common appearances of bed bug bites include:
Some people may not develop any marks from a bite. Most people develop marks similar to mosquito or flea bites — slightly swollen bumps with a reddish bruise in the middle that itch.
Bed bugs are nature’s hitchhikers. They travel from other infested areas by attaching themselves to your clothing, bags and luggage or any surface that's soft or upholstered. Once they’re inside your home, bed bugs travel between rooms to find more surfaces to live, breed and feed.
Bed bugs bite because they are hungry. They feed on your blood by inserting a beak that resembles a straw into your skin. The bugs drink your blood for a few minutes before becoming full, then detach and crawl away from your body to digest their meal.
In most people, bed bug bites don’t cause any serious health problems and the bite marks disappear within a few weeks. In others, bite marks may be enlarged or swollen welts and are more painful and itchy.
Other health problems from bed bug bites include:
A visual examination of the bites on your skin gives your healthcare provider proof of a bite, but the bites may look similar to other bug bites. You can confirm the diagnosis by locating and identifying a bed bug in your sleeping environment.
Fortunately, bed bug bites don’t usually present a serious threat to your health. The best way to treat bed bug bites includes:
If your itching is severe and causes you extreme discomfort, 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.
To treat the symptoms of the bed bug bite, the following medications can help:
No, bed bug bites don’t multiply if you itch them. Bed bugs also don’t carry or spread disease, so the bite is not contagious.
If you have a bed bug infestation, you can get rid of bed bugs by:
Depending on the severity of the bed bug infestation, it could take weeks to months to eliminate the pests. Often, the first attempt to eliminate an infestation is not 100% successful, so keep a watchful eye on the infected area each week to monitor the situation and re-treat as needed.
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:
Bed bug bites irritate your skin and can be a discomfort to your daily routine. Bites can cause infection if you scratch too much. Bed bug bites often lead to sleep deprivation due to itching, stress and anxiety inside of your bedroom after finding an infestation. Exterminating the bed bugs leads to more peace of mind.
Bed bug bites usually heal within a week but could last longer depending on how your body reacts to the bite. If you don’t kill the bed bugs, you might get more bed bug bites until the bugs have been exterminated.
You should visit your healthcare provider if you experience severe itching that prevents you from going about your day. If you scratch a lot and the site of the bite turns into sores that are puffy, red and oozing, that may be a sign of infection. Your healthcare provider will help you treat the infection.
While the symptoms for many bug bites include itching, the bite pattern and location help separate each bug to better treat the bite.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Bed bugs are traveling pests whose bite causes itching and discomfort. Take steps to prevent bed bugs from getting comfortable in your home by encasing your mattress in a protective cover and washing your clothing with hot, soapy water immediately when returning from vacation.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/14/2022.
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