Symptoms and Treatment of Bed Bug Bites

How to Sleep Tight and Not Let the Bed Bugs Bite

Bed Bug Bites
Lots of red bumps for no apparent reason -- bed bugs could be a possibility. (c) Claire Houck

Bed bugs are little bloodsucking parasites -- really, it's not a commentary on their personalities. They only eat the blood of humans and other mammals and they feed mostly at night when you're sleeping. Dad wasn't kidding when he turned your light off at bedtime and said, "Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite."

Bed bugs aren't necessarily just active at night (nocturnal) but that's most likely when you happen to be in bed.

If you're sleeping during the day, however, they're just as happy to have breakfast or lunch as they are to have a late dinner.

Bed bugs like when we sleep because we're easy targets. We're like room service for them. We show up for hours at a time and quietly lie flat so they can munch away in the dark.

Symptoms of Bed Bug Bites

Often, the only way to know you've been bitten by bed bugs is to see the little red spots on your skin. Unfortunately, the bumps can take as much as two weeks to show up after the bites. Bed bug symptoms are similar to other bug bites:

  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Itching
  • Swelling

Some folks can have allergic reactions to bed bugs, but it usually takes multiple bites.

Bed bugs are not picky eaters when it comes to location -- any exposed skin will do -- but they won't necessarily go farther than they have to. Expect to see bites more often on the face, hands, and feet, but they can -- and do -- bite anywhere.

The only way to know for sure if your symptoms are, in fact, a result of bed bugs is to find the bed bug infestation in your room or furniture.

Signs of Bed Bug Infestation

There are some telltale signs of bed bug infestations:

  • Dead bed bugs (most of the time these are actually the outer shells -- exoskeletons -- of molting bed bugs)
  • Bugs in the folds of cushions or bedding
  • Rust-colored spots from bed bug poop
  • Musty, almost sickly-sweet odor

If you walk into a hotel room and it stinks, look for signs of a bed bug infestation. It's not a bad idea to take a look at your mattress and bedding whenever moving into a new hotel room for the night, regardless if it stinks and is dirty or not. Bed bugs can be found in luxury hotels and by-the-hour joints alike.

To see how bed bug bites look, check out the Bed Bug Picture Gallery.

Treatment for Bed Bug Bites

Bed bugs are the epitome of the old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Bed bug bites aren't dangerous in and of themselves and unlike other types of bugs, bed bugs aren't known carriers of any specific diseases. Like any bug bite, however, they run the risk of becoming infected and some people can experience allergic reactions.  

If you see bed bug bites, the most important thing is to watch for symptoms of allergic reactions, which include persistent itching, redness and swelling.

In very rare cases, bed bug bites can lead to anaphylaxis. Look for:

If you see signs of anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately.

For signs of allergy that aren't bad enough to be anaphylaxis, call your doctor.

Don't Scratch Your Bites

Rule #1 is not to scratch bed bug bites. The more you scratch, the more chance you have of introducing bacteria into the bite and creating an infection. To address the itching and inflammation, use hydrocortisone cream and take antihistamines. You can also use an antihistamine cream to combat itching.


"Parasites - Bed Bugs." CDC. Last updated 2 Nov 2011. Accessed 6 Mar 2012.