How to identify and treat bed bug bites – Insider

Bed bug bites are itchy, annoying, and just plain creepy. Although the bites are generally harmless, it's important to identify and get rid of bed bugs, otherwise they will keep biting you.

The thing is, it might take a while to realize that you have bed bugs. That's because bed bugs are tiny, and their bites can mimic other insect bites or skin irritations.

Here's everything you should know about bed bug bites and how to get rid of the pesky critters once and for all.

Bed bugs are big enough to be seen with the naked eye, says Tanya Nino, MD, a dermatologist with Providence St Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California. They're about the size of a tick (1 to 5 mm long), oval-shaped, flat, and have a reddish-brown color.

Bed bugs are very small and rare to actually see. dblight/Getty Images

Although they're large enough to see, bed bugs can be extremely difficult to find. They're active at night, rather than during the day. When you're away, they're hiding away in the cracks and seams of bedding or upholstered furniture. They're pretty good about staying out of the way when you're looking for them.

Because of that, it's rare to actually spot a bed bug. Instead, it's more likely that you'll notice bed bug bites.

Bed bug bites appear as small red marks on light skin, and could appear as small dark spots on skin that is darker shades, says Sharleen St. Surin-Lord, MD, medical director at Visage Dermatology and Aesthetics Center in Washington D.C.

Usually, they'll appear in clusters of 3 to 5 bites in a zig-zag pattern that reflects where the bug has moved on your body. Although bed bugs can bite anywhere, the bites tend to be concentrated on the abdomen and arms, St. Surin-Lord says.

Bed bug bites often appear on the abdomen. Joel Carillet/Getty Images

Bed bug bites tend to be a little smaller than mosquito bites, though it may be difficult to tell them apart from flea bites.

"The difference is that you normally can see the fleas jumping around or the mosquitoes, after they have bitten you," St. Surin-Lord says. "Bed bugs are a little more clandestine."

This comparison table can help you diagnose your type of bug bite:

Yuqing Liu/Insider

If your bites are most prominent in the morning and appear in groups of three, that's a good indication that you might be dealing with bed bugs.

"Often, the bites will occur in a line of three, which is sometimes called 'breakfast, lunch, and dinner,' Nino says.

The primary symptom of bed bug bites is welts on your skin. Usually, these welts are very itchy, and appear in groups.

As with other bug bites, some people will have a harsh reaction, including redness and itchiness, while others will barely be bothered by bed bug bites.

Note: Though it's rare, bed bug bites can become infected if you scratch them. If you experience symptoms like fever, significant swelling, or nausea, you should call your doctor. If you have any symptoms that make it difficult to breathe, call 911.

"Bedbugs become dangerous when a large part of the body is affected, causing intense itching and scratching, leading to open, wounded, bleeding skin," St. Surin-Lord says. "This now creates a portal for bacteria and skin infections."

In addition to noticing bed bug bites, you might spot symptoms of a bed bug infestation in your home. These can include:

Remember, just because you don't see the bugs doesn't mean they aren't there, especially since the bugs tend to hide during the day and become active at night, Nino says.

You can treat bed bug bites by first washing the bite site with soapy water to remove any dirt or debris. Then, you can try these at-home remedies:

The itching from bed bug bites can last for up to two weeks, St. Surin-Lord says. That's often prolonged if the infestation hasn't been addressed and the person continues to get new bites. If you're dealing with severe itchiness despite using the remedies above, you can reach out to your doctor for a more powerful prescription anti-itch cream.

In some cases, St. Surin-Lord prescribes oral steroids to people who have severe itching caused by bed bug bites. The oral steroids can reduce inflammation and itchiness in people who don't get relief from topical creams. They can also help prevent further health complications from the overwhelming itchiness.

A bed bug infestation can happen to anyone, no matter how clean your home is. That's because most people inadvertently bring bed bugs home after traveling, or occasionally from purchasing used furniture.

During or after travel, you can take these steps to reduce your risk of bringing bed bugs home:

In general, you should regularly check your home, especially your bedroom, for signs of bed bugs. Pay extra close attention after travel or after sleeping at someone else's home, and remember that it can take up to two weeks for symptoms of an infestation to appear.

Ridding yourself of bed bugs is not a quick or easy task. It can take weeks or months to get rid of bed bugs, so try to be patient and prepare yourself for the long haul.

Here's an overview of how to get rid of bed bugs:

In most cases, it's a good idea to call a professional exterminator, who is able to use more powerful pesticides and get the infestation under control more quickly.

"Elimination of bed bugs can be a difficult undertaking," Nino says. "You may need a licensed professional."

Although bed bug bites are generally harmless, they can be very uncomfortable. If you're not getting relief from at-home treatments, reach out to your doctor.

In addition, it's important to treat the infestation and get rid of the bed bugs they will likely keep biting people until they are professionally exterminated.

"No matter what you decide to do, you must rid your home of the bed bugs," St. Surin-Lord says. "If you were at a hotel and feel that you were bitten in their bed and were diagnosed with bed bugs, you should contact that hotel so that they have their rooms treated."

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How to identify and treat bed bug bites - Insider

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