Bed bugs are notoriously sneaky pests. They can easily make their way into your home in luggage, personal belongings or secondhand furniture. And once they're there, they're happy to stick around and start multiplying. Unfortunately, because they're so stealthy, an infestation can go undetected for some time.
One of the most obvious signs you have a problem is the appearance of bed bug bites. But what do bed bug bites look like and what do you do about them? Read on to find out.
Why Bed Bugs Bite
Bed bugs feed on blood. They will bite almost any warm-blooded animal, including dogs, cats and rodents, but unfortunately, their preferred hosts are humans. For this reason, they're frequently found in areas where humans are present, including houses, hotels, dormitories, apartments and even hospitals. While they can travel up to 20 feet to find a blood meal, they usually stay close to their hosts, preferring to hide themselves away in beds, mattresses and furniture.
Bed bugs are most active at night, and they typically emerge from their hiding places, also called harborages, to feed while their hosts are sleeping or resting. These pests use biological signals, including carbon dioxide and body heat, to help them locate a host. Typically, each blood meal takes around 10 minutes, and bed bugs feed every 3 to 7 days.
How Do Bed Bug Bites Look?
Surprisingly, bed bug bites do not always appear immediately. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that for some people, they may take as long as 14 days to become visible. When they do appear, they often look like small red welts, and they usually appear in a zig-zag or linear pattern.
Bed bugs will bite any area of exposed skin. Common bite areas include the arms, face, neck and legs, although they can bite anywhere. Sometimes, bites may occur in areas that come into contact with the edges of your sheets and bedding.
Mosquito bites often appear in a random pattern. They can be visible and start itching quickly, while reactions to bed bug bites are often delayed.
Flea bites usually look like dots with dark red centers, and they usually appear like small clusters of mosquito bites. They can become visible and start itching quickly. And while bed bug bites can be anywhere, flea bites are mostly only found around the ankles.
Symptoms of Bed Bug Bites
According to the Mayo Clinic, some people have no reaction to bed bug bites at all and may not even know they've been bitten. For those that do have a reaction, itching may be a symptom.
When bed bugs bite, they inject their hosts with both an anticoagulant and an anesthetic. The anticoagulant allows the blood to flow freely so the insect can feed, and the anesthetic prevents the host from feeling anything. This also delays any itching that may occur. In fact, itching usually only begins as the anesthetic wears off and the body starts to react to the saliva the insect has left behind.
For some, bed bug bites may cause more extreme reactions. The CDC notes that some people may experience enlarged bite marks and painful swelling. In some cases, bed bug bites can also cause mental health side effects, including anxiety and insomnia.
In rare cases, bed bug bites may cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention.
Fortunately, bed bugs are not known to carry pathogens that cause disease in humans.
How to Help Treat Bed Bug Bites
Anyone that experiences bed bug bites should consult a doctor, if possible. However, it is possible to treat minor reactions to bed bug bites at home. For at-home treatment, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends washing the bites with soap and water to help prevent infection and itchiness, then following with a corticosteroid cream to further reduce itching. These creams are readily available over the counter at local drugstores, but stronger forms are available with a doctor's prescription.
Most bed bug bites should heal and resolve themselves within one to two weeks. However, if you notice bug bug bites on your skin, it may be a sign of a bigger problem – and you should contact a bed bug control specialist to inspect your home.