Bed bugs are small, reddish-brown insects that feed on the blood of humans and animals. Their bites can cause itching, redness, and discomfort, and can even lead to an allergic reaction in some people.
If you suspect you have a bed bug infestation, it's important to take action to eliminate them and prevent future bites.
Learn how to identify bed bugs and get rid of them for good with our comprehensive guide.
What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?
Bed bugs are small, flat, wingless insects with six legs that feed on blood from animals or people.
They range in color from almost white to brown, but they turn rusty red after feeding.
Adult bed bugs have flat bodies about the size of an apple seed2.
Know the Signs of a Bed Bug Infestation
The first step in dealing with a bed bug infestation is to know the signs.
The initial sign of bedbugs may be small, itchy bites on your skin, often on your arms or shoulders.
Bedbugs tend to leave clusters of bites rather than single bites here and there. But for some people, bedbug bites don’t cause any marks or itching2.
A more accurate way to identify a possible infestation is to look for physical signs of bed bugs. When cleaning, changing bedding, or staying away from home, look for:
- Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed.
- Dark spots, which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would.
- Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and pale yellow skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger.
- Live bed bugs.
If you suspect you have an infestation, it's important to take action immediately to prevent further bites and eliminate the bugs.
Identify the Appearance of Bed Bug Bites
Bed bug bites often appear as small, red, itchy bumps on the skin.
They may be in a line or cluster and can be mistaken for mosquito bites or other insect bites.
However, bed bug bites tend to be more persistent and may take longer to heal.
Bed bug bites are usually painless but can be very itchy. They are often grouped together in a line or cluster and can appear anywhere on the body.
The bites usually look like small, flat, or raised areas that may become inflamed, red, blistered, or have a darker center.
They can also be accompanied by hives or a rash3.
It's important to note that not everyone reacts to bed bug bites in the same way, so some people may not experience any symptoms at all.
Take Immediate Action to Eliminate Bed Bugs
If you suspect you have a bed bug infestation, it's important to take immediate action to eliminate them.
To eliminate bed bugs, you can start by taking some steps at home. Wash your bedding, curtains, and clothing in hot water and dry them on the highest dryer setting.
Put stuffed animals, shoes, and other items that can’t be washed in the dryer and run it on high for 30 minutes or more2.
Thorough vacuuming can get rid of some of your bed bugs. Carefully vacuum rugs, floors, upholstered furniture, bed frames, under beds, around bed legs, and all cracks and crevices around the room.
Change the bag after each use so the bed bugs can’t escape, then place the used bag in a tightly sealed plastic bag and in an outside garbage bin4.
You can also use a steamer on mattresses, couches, and other places where bedbugs hide5.
If you have a severe infestation, it may be necessary to call a professional exterminator6.
Remember, bed bugs can quickly multiply and spread, so it's important to act fast to prevent further bites and infestations.
Use Natural Remedies to Treat Bed Bug Bites
While it's important to take action to eliminate bed bugs from your home, it's also important to treat any bites you may have received.
Natural remedies such as applying aloe vera, tea tree oil, or lavender oil to the affected area can help reduce itching and inflammation.
You can also take an antihistamine or apply a cold compress to the bite to help alleviate symptoms.
Let's take a look at some specific natural remedies that can help relieve the symptoms of the bite of a bed bug:
- Apple cider vinegar: It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce itching and swelling around the affected skin area. You can apply it directly to the bite or mix it with water and apply it as a compress.
- Witch hazel: It has astringent properties that can help reduce itching and swelling. You can apply it directly to the bite or mix it with water and apply it as a compress.
- Oatmeal: It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce itching and swelling around the affected skin area. You can mix it with water and apply it as a paste.
- Coconut oil: It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce itching and swelling around the affected skin area. You can apply it directly to the bite or mix it with other essential oils like tea tree oil.
- Tea tree oil: It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce itching and swelling around the affected skin area. You can mix it with other essential oils like coconut oil and apply it directly to the bite.
- Aloe vera: It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce itching and swelling around the affected skin area. You can apply it directly to the bite or mix it with other essential oils like tea tree oil.
In addition to these remedies, you should also wash the affected area with soap and water to prevent infection.
If you experience a severe reaction like fever, chills, difficulty breathing, or notice an infection, seek medical attention immediately.
How to Prevent Bed Bug Bites
Bed bugs can be difficult to get rid of once they infest a home or building, so it's important to take preventative measures early on.
Here are some tips to help prevent bed bugs and bed bug bites:
- Use a protective cover on your mattress and box springs. Check it regularly for holes.
- Reduce clutter in your bedroom so bed bugs don’t have many places to hide.
- Vacuum regularly, including your mattress, carpet, curtains, and upholstered furniture.
- When you stay away from home, put your bag on a suitcase stand, dresser, or table rather than on the bed or floor.
- Wash and change your sheets often. Your dead skin cells will fill your bed, and these cells will attract insects. Washing your sheets every other week isn’t terrible, but a weekly cleaning is ideal.
- Wear pajamas that cover both legs and a full-sleeved top or shirt while sleeping to minimize skin exposure as much as possible 27.
Seek Professional Help If Necessary
While natural remedies can be effective for treating mild bed bug bites, it's important to seek professional medical help if you experience a severe reaction or infection, or are dealing with an infestation.
If you have bed bugs, it is important to get a pest management professional (PMP) involved as soon as possible. Taking time to try to treat the problem yourself could help the infestation to spread.
You should hire a PMP experienced in treating bed bug infestations and follow guidelines on how to prepare for control, which will include laundering and cleaning.
Expect the PMP to inspect your residence, take apart furniture if necessary and use vacuums, heat, and pesticides to treat the infestation.
Very few infestations are controlled with only one treatment so prepare for multiple visits8.
You can contact your state pesticide agency for guidance about hiring professional pest control companies4. Your state cooperative extension service office may be able to help with bed bug identification9.
For issues related to paying for bed bug control, check with your local social service agencies9.