Bed Bug Bites: What Do They Look Like?

Written by Heather Ross
Updated: September 21, 2022
Image Credit OttoPles/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • Bed bugs are serious business because they are difficult to get rid of.
  • Their bites may go undetected at first because of a numbing saliva.
  • Be aware that you could bring bed bugs into your home after visiting another location, such as a hotel. Check your luggage!

Bed bugs are a group of blood-sucking insects that come out at night to feed on humans and other animals. Don’t let the cute, nighttime saying fool you! Bed bugs are somewhat notorious for being difficult to eradicate. The adults are characterized by flat oval-shaped bodies that become red and inflated like a big balloon when they feed on blood. They can sometimes be mistaken for ticks, especially in low light.

Bed bugs normally enter the home by hitching a ride on furniture, clothing, luggage, and other items. Once they’ve established a foothold, they like to hide in walls, floorboards, bed mattresses and frames, and other objects around the room, which can make them difficult to get rid of. They’re also highly resilient to treatments and reproduce quickly. This article will cover some important facts about the identification, symptoms, and treatments of a bed bug bite, as well as how to prevent them.

What Are the Symptoms of Bed Bug Bites?

Bed bugs have long piercing beaks that puncture the skin to draw blood. They will target exposed parts of the body, particularly around the arms, legs, and neck area. Bite marks can appear on a child, an adult, and even your pets. The initial bite is normally painless, which allows the bed bug to extract blood without triggering a response from the person, but you may notice other signs, including bloodstains on the sheets, dark specks of bed bug excrement around the mattress seams, and pale yellow empty skin left behind by the insects’ molts.

It can take anywhere between several minutes and a few days for the body to develop symptoms. The bite looks like a red inflamed bump, measuring maybe a centimeter in diameter (that’s less than half an inch). The bite marks are sometimes but not always grouped together in small areas, lines, or zigzag patterns spaced apart. These bite marks are not entirely random.

The bed bug is very careful and meticulous about selecting a suitable feeding site. They may take multiple bites to find a large blood vessel beneath the skin. If a sleeping person moves, then the bed bug will usually withdraw its mouthpart and find another part of the body to feed upon.

These physical marks are usually accompanied by an annoying itchy sensation that may tempt you to scratch them. In the worst-case scenario, the marks may develop into very painful blisters. Some people may be prone to fatigue or fever as well, but systemic effects are very rare. However, in a small number of cases, people might not develop any symptoms at all, which can actually cause you to miss an infestation.

The symptoms of the bite are caused by a reaction to the anticoagulant substance in the saliva. This anti-coagulant prevents the blood from clotting, which enables the bed bug to obtain as much blood as possible before it clumps up and stops bleeding. Each individual reaction to the saliva will vary based on several different factors, including the number of times bitten and the sensitivity of the person.

It can take up to several days for one’s body to show symptoms of bed bug bites.

OttoPles/Shutterstock.com

How to Treat Bed Bug Bites

In the vast majority of cases, bed bug bites are nothing serious to worry about. They will normally go away on their own within a week or two. The important thing to remember is that you should keep the affected area clean and avoid scratching it as much as possible, no matter how irritating it becomes. You can help speed up the recovery with the use of either a skin cream containing hydrocortisone or an oral antihistamine such as diphenhydramine. You should always read some of the facts on the label about how to use and apply the treatments.

However, if you continue to scratch the bite marks, or you fail to keep the area clean, then you may run the risk of developing a secondary infection. Some people are more vulnerable to infections than others. Bite marks on a child, elderly person, or someone with a weakened immune system are most at risk of developing an infection. When this occurs, you may want to seek help from a medical professional for proper treatment. The doctor will normally prescribe an antibiotic. You can prepare for a doctor’s appointment by assembling a detailed description of symptoms, recent travel plans, and any medications and supplements you take.

If you have been bitten by bed bugs we recommend Zax’s Original #1 Bug Bite & Anti-Itch Cream to treat the irritation. Apply daily until the rashes subside.

Best Treatment For Bites
Zax’s Original #1 Bug Bite & Anti-Itch Cream
  • Natural ingredients
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  • Also works on rashes caused by plants, like poison ivy
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How to Prevent Bed Bug Bites

Learning some basic facts about how to prevent bed bugs (and what causes them) in your home can save you a lot of time and effort in trying to eradicate them later on. First off, it’s a good idea to clean your living space of any clutter where the bed bugs could be hiding. Seal any wall cracks and move your bed away from the wall or furniture. Vacuum potential areas of infestation frequently and throw the bag away after first use. You should also clean your sheets and clothing items frequently in a dryer.

If you’ve spent the night at another location (such as a hotel or lodging), or you’re bringing home secondhand furniture or clothing, then you should check these items for possible bed bugs before bringing them into your home. Unfortunately, once an infestation has begun, it’s almost impossible to prevent them from biting you without completely eradicating them. Wearing pajamas or using special mattress coverings can help, but they will only do so much to stop the bed bugs.

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About the Author

Heather Ross is a secondary English teacher and mother of 2 humans, 2 tuxedo cats, and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading papers, she enjoys reading and writing about all the animals!

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