It’s that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you wake up and realize you’re covered in bites that weren’t there when you fell asleep.
Suddenly, you remember that the building down the street has been battling bed bugs for the past few weeks. Even a few retail stores have been hit by the bed bugs epidemic – you saw it on the news.
And didn’t Jane from the office down the hall have reddish welt-like bites on her neck?
Because bed bugs are tiny and great at hiding, you can live with a bed bug infestation without seeing a single one.
That’s why it’s usually their bites that tip off people to their presence.
Bed bugs absolutely need to bite you – the blood of warm-blooded animals like yourself are their only form of nutrition. So if you’re living with bed bugs, you will get bitten.
And yes, bed bug bites suck – literally. You see, bed bugs don’t technically “bite” – they suck by using two little tubes for their feeding.
One is used to inject an anti-coagulant along with their anesthetic saliva into the bite area while they suck your blood with the other tube.
Thanks to the anesthetic, you won’t feel a thing and it could take days to develop any reaction on the skin – if you develop a reaction at all. Some people don’t produce any sort of visible reaction to bed bugs bites. The statistics for non-reactivity vary widely, but it’s acknowledged that somewhere between 20% to 80% of the population won’t have any visible signs.
And for some reason unknown to scientists, the majority of people over 65 don’t have any sort of reaction whatsoever!
But don’t envy these non-reactors who don’t have to suffer red, unsightly bites – people without visible reactions are completely unaware they’re living amidst a bed bug infestation until they see the little pests scurrying around – by which time, the infestation can be severe.
So if you’re covered in bites, thank your lucky stars because you’re one of the lucky ones who got alerted to a bed bug infestation early on.
And speaking of luck, those bites on your skin might not even be bed bug bites – they could just be mosquito or flea bites, both of which produce reactions similar to bed bug bites and are easier to get rid of than bed bugs.
Let’s find out for sure, shall we? Here are common bed bug bite symptoms to look for…
Do bed bug bites itch?
Like with visual reactions to bed bug bites, it varies depending on the person, but in the majority of cases, yes, they itch.
According to one study, the majority of tested bed bug sufferers (72%) reported having itchy red welts and the rest (28%) percent indicated itching in the absence of welts. Bed bugs bites itch can vary from mild to severe itchiness.
Where do bed bugs bite?
One way to distinguish bed bug bites from flea bites is that flea bites will occur mostly around the ankles whereas bed bugs can bite any area of exposed skin, although the majority of bed bug bites occur on the chest or back, neck, hands, feet or face.
According to research by University of Kentucky entomologists, it’s possible that bed bugs have a difficult time biting through most clothing so they’ll feed where skin is conveniently exposed.
Also, unlike mosquitoes, bed bugs will rarely bite you on the back on knees or in the folds of skin.
Another tip on flea bites vs bed bug bites: Bed bug bites don’t have a red spot in the center like flea bites do.
What do bed bug bites look like?
As mentioned above, not everyone has the same reaction to bed bug bites. People have various sensitivities to the allergens in bed bug saliva, which determine how your skin reacts, how big the bite is and if you even have a visible reaction at all.
When bed bug bites do show, their appearance can range from small, flat or raised red welts to rashes, hives, or blisters. People have mistaken their bed bug bites for everything from poison ivy to an allergic reaction to detergent. This range in visible reactions is why bed bug bites aren’t a surefire sign of bed bugs.
That being said, there are some common signs of bed bug bites.
For starters, bed bugs generally feed when you’re in deep sleep – around an hour or two before sunrise – so if you wake up with bites that you didn’t have the night before, that can be a sign of bed bugs.
Also, bed bugs tend to bite multiple times, even “testing” a few areas first to find the best source of blood so bed bug bites tend to have a pattern to them, appearing in a cluster of red bumps (a rash termed bed bug dermatitis), a row of several bites (jokingly referred to as bed bug breakfast, lunch, and dinner), or in a zig-zag line.
Are there other signs of bed bug bites?
Yes, but they’re not on your skin. Check your sheets instead for signs of…
- Tiny reddish or rusty-colored stains or smears. These are bed bug blood stains that typically happen when you move in your sleep and unwittingly squash a recently fed bed bug in the process.
- Dark or black stains. Sorry to break it to you, but these stains are digested blood, aka bed bug poo. They look like the marks of a felt tip pen and will usually bleed into the fabric. You can confirm whether they are, in fact, bed bug feces by wiping it with a wet rag – if it smears, it is indeed bed bug feces.
So…do I have bed bug bites?
As mentioned above, identifying bed bug bites aren’t an exact science but if you have bites combined with blood stains and fecal matter on your bed – these are tell-tale signs of a bed bug infestation so yes, the bites you have are probably bed bug bites.
The good news is that bed bug bites don’t transmit disease and don’t usually require any treatment, so you don’t have that to worry about.
What is troubling, though is that your reaction to bed bug bites can worsen and become more intense the more times you get bitten.
So channel all the anger and itchiness you feel about from these bites and put that energy toward getting rid of bed bugs – asap. You’ll want to start by killing the bed bugs in your mattress to reduce your likelihood of bites.
And while you do that, remember to keep the existing bed bug bites clean and disinfected and try not to scratch them because that can cause more swelling, bleeding as well as result in secondary infections.
If, by any chance, you develop signs of an allergic reaction – bed bug rash, hives, or blisters – that persist, contact your doctor.