Bed Bug Bites 101: The Ultimate Guide to Stop Bed Bug Bites

Think you’ve got some bed bug bites and looking for sympathy and solutions? We got you. When it comes to bed bugs, there’s a lot to dislike.

These small bugs live quite happily in human beds and furniture, leaving their dark droppings everywhere they go in the form of black stains that can be impossible to remove.

They multiply at an astonishing rate, so that a single bug can become a  full-blown infestation in a matter of months. And their manners are atrocious.

But the worst thing about bed bugs has to be the fact that they bite.

Bed bugs feed exclusively on blood, with a strong preference for human blood above all others. And these bed bug bites cause itchy red welts that multiply as quickly as the bugs themselves.

And unlike other blood feeders like mosquitoes, bed bugs don’t go away during the winter.

It’s the fact that bed bugs bite that makes them such a despised pest around the world. But how much do you really know about bed bug bites?

The question might seem odd, but there’s more to these bugs than meets the eye at first glance. Here’s everything you need to know about bed bug bites.

Can bed bugs bite during the day?

You didn’t wake up with any suspicious bites on your body but you just woke up from a siesta to find the dreaded three bites in a row.

Could it be? Can bed bugs even bite during the day?

Most definitely. Bed bugs are secretive creatures. They lack any real defenses against predators, and all they can do to stay safe is avoid being seen. Which is why they are typically most active at night.

But if you think that working a night shift or keeping a light on through the night will keep you safe from bed bugs, think again.

Bed bugs need to feed, and they will do it whenever they get the chance. If you sleep during the day, they will bite you during the day. And you don’t even need to be asleep.

If you spend a few hours on a couch where bed bugs are living, you can guarantee that sooner or later, one will appear for a meal.

Do bed bugs bite every night?

Like any other animal, bed bugs need to feed in order to grow. Like many insects, bed bugs have a hard exoskeleton which they need to shed to get bigger.

This process, called molting, occurs five times before a bed bug reaches maturity. And to get the energy to shed their skin and grow a new one, bed bugs need to feed every time they molt.

Female bed bugs are baby making machines. And laying eggs is another very labor-intensive activity. Female bed bugs need a regular supply of blood to lay their eggs. The life of a bed bug depends on the availability of human blood.

With such high energy demands, you’d think that bed bugs would need to bite every night. But that’s not the case.

After consuming a blood meal, a bed bug will return to its hiding place in your mattress or some other dark crevice. There it will molt or lay eggs or just hang out with his buddies for a while, doing bed bug stuff.

It may take a few days for the bed bug to entirely consume its meal and go looking for another.

Why does this matter? Well, at the start of a bed bug infestation, there may be very few individual bed bugs present. Possibly only one or two. When there are so few bugs, bites can be few and far between.

So when you first start to get bites, it’s tempting to just shrug it off. After all, bed bugs aren’t the only insects that bite.

It’s only once there is an established pattern of new bites on a regular basis that most people start to worry. But this only happens once the infestation has grown.

Once the population of bed bugs in your home has reached a dozen or more, you can expect to be bitten every night. Not by the same bed bug, mind you.

Different bed bugs will come and feed on different nights so that there is never a night where you’re not being bitten.

Do bed bugs bite everyone?

Pretty much. Your pets are mostly safe from bed bugs since bed bugs are fairly picky in terms of what species they will feed on, choosing humans above all else. But within that preference, bed bugs are fairly indiscriminate. They will feed on whatever people are available.

That’s not to say that they have no preferences. Like other blood feeders such as mosquitoes, bed bugs seem to exhibit a preference for some people over others.

It’s not clearly understood why this would be the case. We all have different body chemistry, so it’s possible that bed bugs are more attracted to some people than others.

 But this is one beauty contest you don’t want to win.

One phenomenon common during bed bug infestations is that a wife sleeping next to her husband will get bitten more than he does.

Some people think that this is because women generally have softer, thinner skin or less body hair. But the actual cause is more straightforward.

The itchy red welts that form at the site of a bed bug bite are not caused by the bite itself, but by the body’s reaction to the bite. Everyone reacts differently to this bite, with some people not reacting at all and others having full-blown allergic reactions to bed bug bites.

If it seems that one person in your home is being bitten more than others, the chances are that you are all being bitten the same amount, but one of you is reacting more than the rest.

Creepy, right?

What do bed bug bites look like?

How long is a piece of string? It depends.

The red welts on the skin that are commonly associated with bed bugs are caused not by the bites themselves, but by the histamine reaction of your body trying to stave off infection.

As a result, everyone’s response is different. Some people can have bed bugs without displaying any sign of bites at all. Others develop massive welts that can become a genuine health concern.

In a few rare cases, allergic reactions to bed bug bites can trigger anaphylaxis.

So much for the extreme cases. Most of us will react to bed bug bites with small, itchy red welts at the site of the bite. These bites look very similar to the bites of other blood-feeding insects such as mosquitoes.

So how do you ever tell bed bug bites apart from other biting insects?

One clue is that bed bugs tend to be more consistent in their biting than other insects. Not only will they feed on you night after night, but a single bed bug will bite multiple times in the same night.

bed bug bites
Image via Phil Pellitteri, University of Wisconsin

They tend to bite in a line, with some people referring to these bites as breakfast, lunch, and dinner – resulting in the dreaded three bites in a row pattern.

So if you are finding new bites every day or every few days and you notice that they tend to be clustered together in a loose pattern, the chances are good that you have bed bugs.

What’s biting me?

The presence of bites doesn’t necessarily mean you have bed bugs. The unfortunate truth is that bed bugs aren’t the only things that can cause itchy red bumps on your skin. Nope, there are many other bloodsucking species in the world. Such is the sad state of affairs.

Which is why so many bite-laden people run around trying to figure out the difference between bed bug bites vs flea bites or bed bug bites vs mosquito bites and what have you.

And this warrants a longer discussion but for now, here’s a quick rundown of other biting bugs, and how you can rule them out if you suspect you have bed bugs.

Bed bug bites vs spider bites

Spiders don’t go out of their way to bite people. But if they feel threatened, for instance if one gets into your bed and you roll over it during the night, it’s possible that a spider will bite you.

Sometimes, a spider will bite multiple times, like a bed bug. However, unlike bedbugs, spiders have two fangs. If you closely examine a bite mark and see two puncture wounds, it’s probably a spider and not a bed bug that bit you.

Bed bug bites vs mosquito bites

Like bed bugs, mosquitoes feed on human blood. The bite marks of a mosquito and a bed bug can often look the same. Mosquitoes are generally an outdoor pest, but they can also get inside too.

The main difference between the two bugs is that bed bugs will bite more consistently. They will feed every night, and they will do it at any time of year.

Mosquitoes tend to be most active in the warmer summer months, and if you don’t go outside, you’re far less likely to be bitten. So if your bites don’t seem to be getting any better over time, it’s more likely that you have bed bugs rather than mosquitoes feeding on you.

Bed bug bites vs flea bites

Fleas, like bed bugs, are more than happy to live in our homes while they drink our blood, like six-legged vampiric freeloaders.

However, fleas typically bite around ankles and feet, whereas bed bugs will bite anywhere on the body they can get to. Also, fleas actually prefer to feed on dogs and cats, whereas bed bugs will only bite pets as a last resort.

If your dog is getting more bites than you, chances are it’s fleas you have. If it’s the other way around, consider the possibility that you have bed bugs.

Do bed bug bites always itch?

Not necessarily. The itchiness of the bed bug’s bite is caused by the body’s histamine reaction to the skin being pierced. Everyone’s body reacts differently, and some don’t react at all.

So it’s possible to be bitten by a bed bug without becoming itchy.

But if you’re tempted to be envious of those people whose skin does not react to bed bug bites, remember that those are the same people who tend to have infestations for longer without realizing that there’s a problem.

Itchy, visible bites are often the first warning sign of a bed bug infestation. If your body doesn’t have that reaction, it will take longer to know that you have a problem, and the problem will be more significant by the time you find out it exists.

How long do bed bug bites take to heal?

Everybody’s skin is different, so there’s no single answer to how long bed bug bites stay itchy for. Additionally, it can take up to 14 days after receiving a bite for an itch to develop!

But once an itchy reaction has begun, it typically takes one to two weeks to go away. Of course, those with greater sensitivity to bites may suffer for three weeks or longer.

As itchy as bed bug bites can be, it’s important that you try not to scratch them. Scratching irritates the skin and can cause secondary infections which will only increase the itchiness.

As good as it may feel in the moment to scratch that itch, try to avoid touching bed bug bites. You’ll only make them worse.

How to stop bed bug bites from itching?

If you’re the type of person who reacts to bed bug bites, join the club. It’s not a particularly exclusive club, and the only entry fee is that you need to be bitten by a bed bug. But isn’t it nice to belong to something?

The first step to stop bed bug bites from itching is to wash the affected area with soap and water. This will clean your skin and reduce the risk of a secondary infection which can make the itchiness worse.

Next, apply a topical skin cream. Aloe vera is a great natural option to soothe irritated skin. Another great, natural option is sulfur ointment (and soap) which works amazingly for taking the itchy out of bite-ridden skin.

We also highly recommend Insect Bite Patches, which do double duty to cover up the bed bug bite – both to make it less visible and to prevent you from scratching them – as well as contains soothing essential oils like chamomile and menthol to relieve itching.

They’re intended for mosquito bites but work well for a variety of insect bites, including bed bugs.

If you want something a little more powerful, corticosteroid creams can be purchased from a pharmacist that will significantly reduce the itching of your skin.

However, be aware that long-term use of corticosteroids can thin the skin, and so these products are best used sparingly. Consult with a doctor before taking any medication for bed bug bites.

If you’re one of the unfortunate few who has a full-scale allergic reaction to bed bugs, an antihistamine such as Benadryl may provide some relief.

Again, consult with a doctor before taking any medication. As brilliant as this online article is, it’s no substitute for eight years of medical school.

How do I make all this stop?

Bed bug bites fade over time. But the bed bugs themselves aren’t going to go away. Not without some serious persuasion, anyway.

Treating the bites will help to relieve the itching, but ultimately, the only way to stop bed bugs from biting is to kill them all. As violent as that may sound, once you’ve spent a few sleepless nights trying not to scratch your itchy skin, you’ll be praying for the death of every last bed bug on earth.

Long-term, the only solution to bed bug bites is to get the bed bugs out of your home. To be effective, bed bug treatment requires a variety of different techniques and a lot of hard work.

But it’s worth it. Once you’ve reclaimed your home from the bloodsucking invaders, your bites will disappear, and you’ll be back to your usual radiant self.

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