Bed bugs are wingless, flat, oval-shaped insects that measure about 4 to 5mm in length. They range in color from almost white to brown and turn rusty red after feeding. Like fleas and mosquitoes, bedbugs are blood-sucking parasites that feed on birds and mammals, including humans. They like to hide during the day and only come out at night to feed on sleeping hosts. These bugs detect the presence of hosts by sensing warmth and carbon dioxide secretions. After feeding, they retreat to their hiding places.
Bedbugs usually feed every 5 to 10 days, but they can go without food for months. When feeding, they pierce the skin of a host and inject the bite site with saliva that contains anticoagulant and anesthetic compounds. As such, blood flows without clotting and the bites are initially painless.
Although bedbugs don’t transmit disease, their bites can be itchy. Sometimes the irritation becomes so bad that afflicted victims scratch enough to cause skin breaks, which can develop an infection easily. The bites in some sensitive individuals give rise to serious allergic reactions.
Symptoms: What do Bed Bug Bites Look Like?
When bed bugs bite human skin, they leave behind slightly raised bumps that can become itchy, red, or blistered. Individuals who experience severe reactions develop blisters or hives. The bites can appear anywhere on the body. In most cases, though, they occur on areas of the skin that are exposed as one sleeps such as the arms, legs, neck, or face.
It’s common for people to have bedbug bite marks and pass them off for something else. After all, the bites of a bed bug visually resemble that of a mosquito or flea in the earliest stages. Even a trained physician cannot tell whether a single bite was inflicted by a bed bug or some other insect. However, bed bug bites usually appear in clusters. In some cases, the raised bite marks form a line or zigzag pattern. Mosquito bites, on the other hand, are more sporadic, while fleas usually only bite the legs and ankles.
Bite marks from bed bugs take time to show. For instance, 14 days can pass before itchy welts form after a bed bug bites you. If the bed bug population is large, repeated bites will start to show and itch within a few days. Some people, however, show no reaction and hence the bites go completely unnoticed.
Do Bed Bug Bites Itch?
When a bed bug bites, you won’t feel it. This is because these bugs inject a small amount of anesthesia into the blood before they bite. With time, however, the bite site can become very itchy. A burning sensation will develop several days after you’ve been bitten. Small raised bumps called welts or papules that resemble a skin rash will form on the irritated area as well.
If bed bug bites trigger an allergic reaction, the symptoms can be more dramatic. People who are allergic to insect bites may develop engorged bite marks or painful blisters when bitten. Although quite rare, some individuals experience an anaphylactic reaction due to the bites.
Reactions from bed bug bites vary from one person to the next. The varying responses largely depend on a person’s sensitivity to insect bites. The number of times bed bugs bite someone will also have an effect on the intensity of the reaction. Depending on the individual’s sensitivity to bed bugs, the reaction can be more or less intense as the number of bites increases.
Home Remedies to Soothe Bed Bug Rash/Bites
Bed bug bites go away on their own in about a week or two. However, there are several home remedies that can soothe the itchiness while they last. Before using any remedy, make sure that the bite marks were actually caused by bedbugs and not something else.
Look for signs of bed bugs in places such as beddings, mattress seams, box springs, pillows, bed frames, furniture crevices, curtains, under carpeting, or headboards. Signs to look for include the bed bugs themselves, or their droppings, which appear as red specks of blood.
The best way to prevent scratching due to itchiness and infections is by washing the bite marks with antiseptic soap. If that alone is not enough, here are 10 home remedies for bed bug rash.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a great natural for bed bug rash because it contains an active ingredient called acetic acid. This compound possesses anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the swelling on bed bug bite sites. White vinegar may be used as an alternative since it also has the same effect on bites from bedbugs.
- Pour one bottle-cap of vinegar on the bit area. Use your finger to spread the vinegar on the bite marks.
- Let the vinegar stay in place until it dries, then rinse the skin with clean water.
- If relief is short-lived, reapply again in about thirty minutes.
- Baking Soda
Sodium bicarbonate, or better known as baking soda, is an alkaline compound that neutralizes acidic chemicals that make bed bug bites itchy. This compound doubles up as an anti-inflammatory agent and helps to reduce reddening and inflammation on the bite marks.
- Combine 1 teaspoon each water and sodium bicarbonate to make a paste. You can increase the content of both ingredients but keep the proportions equal so that the sticky paste doesn’t become too runny.
- Rub the paste on bite marks then let it stay on until dry or wait for an hour before rinsing off.
- If there’s no relief, reapply the paste after an hour.
- Ice Packs
Using ice to treat insect bites is simple. All you have to do is place the required amount of ice cubes in a clean towel before applying ice on the bit area for 10 to 15 minutes. Nerve endings become numb due to cold temperatures from the ice, and this in turn soothes the burning sensation caused by bed bug welts.
Ice packs help to calm inflammation as well. Therefore, bed bug welts should reduce in size with continued use of this remedy.
- Witch Hazel
If you can get some Witch Hazel from your local herbal drug store, it would make a great soothing agent for itching bite marks caused by bedbugs. Due to its astringent properties, Witch Hazel reduces the size of engorged bite marks from bed bugs. This liquid astringent also contains tannins, an aesthetic, organic substance that alleviates itching on irritated skin.
- Place some cotton wool in Witch Hazel and let it soak.
- Dab the cotton ball on the bed bug welts then leave it on the skin for about ten minutes.
- When done, rinse off the treated area.
- Repeat this treatment as needed until bite marks heal.
- Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe Vera gel can treat just about any insect bite. The active ingredients and amino acids in the gel help to calm irritation and discomfort of bed bug welts. An added bonus of using Aloe Vera gel is that it keeps the affected area moisturized.
- Rinse a fresh Aloe Vera leaf then use a sharp knife to slice it open.
- Squeeze the gel onto bite site. Store any excess gel in a container and keep it in the refrigerator for future use.
- To see results, ensure to apply the gel severally for at least two days.
- Lemon Juice
Just like Witch Hazel, lemon juice is a natural astringent. This means that it causes the skin to contract, thereby reducing swelling on bed bug bites. The therapeutic effect of lemon juice on the skin allows it to dry out bedbug bites thus reducing itching and redness. Lemon juice also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties that help to prevent irritation, scratching and infection.
- Take a cotton ball and dip it into fresh lemon juice.
- Pat the bit area with the cotton ball for about thirty seconds.
- Let the cotton ball stay on the skin for another 10 minutes.
- Rinse the treated area with water.
- Repeat this remedy 2 times every day to get relief.
Due to its soothing menthol ingredient, toothpaste makes an excellent remedy for reducing the itching and irritation of bed bug bites. Menthol has a cooling effect on the skin, so it’s a great anti-itching agent.
- Wash your hands and take a pea-size amount of toothpaste with the index finger.
- Rub the toothpaste on the affected bite site and reapply more if needed.
- Leave the toothpaste on the skin for about 10 minutes and then rinse it off.
- Perform this routine several times a day to get some relief from itching.
Cucumbers are great for treating all kinds of insect bites, including those caused by bedbugs. The vitamin C and caffeic acid in these vegetables both work together to reduce swelling and calm itching on bedbug welts.
- Cool a few cucumber peels or chopped pieces in the refrigerator for several hours. You can skip this step but chilled cucumbers will boost the soothing effect.
- Place the chilled cucumber slices or peels on the itching area and leave them there for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Repeat this remedy several times a day until bedbug bites disappear.
Oatmeal is used to treat other skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis because of its anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. You can also use it to combat the itching and swelling caused by bites from bedbugs and other insects.
Here are the different ways you can use oatmeal as a treatment for bed bug welts:
- Scoop a few teaspoons of oatmeal and place them in small plastic container. Add water to make a paste then rub it on the bed but welts. Let the paste stay on the area being treated for ten to fifteen minutes. Repeat these steps several times daily for at least two days.
- Alternatively, you can make an oatmeal bath if the welts are not within easy reach. Simply mix 1/2 cup of finely ground oatmeal in your bath water. For a more soothing effect, add a few drops of peppermint oil to the bath water. Soak in the oatmeal bath for about 15 minutes every morning and evening. Do this for several days until the itching on bedbug bites improves.
- Tea Bags
Tea bags can reduce the irritation and size of welts on the skin that form when bedbugs bite. Black tea contains tannins, a chemical compound with astringent and pain relieving properties.
- Cool a moist, used tea bag in the refrigerator for about half an hour.
- Place the chilled tea bag on the bitten parts of the skin and let it stay in place for about fifteen minutes.
- Repeat this simple remedy 2 to 3 times a day until the welts heal.
Treatment Options for Bed Bugs
Bed bug bites usually go away even without treatment. However, if you want to treat the symptoms they come with, OTC (over-the-counter) medications are an option. Medications to use when treating bed bug bites include:
- Steroidal Anti-Itch Creams
To prevent scratching itchy bed bug bites, consider using an anti-itch cream. Those that contain cortisone or hydrocortisone not only relieve the itching, but also bring down inflammation.
Drug stores also supply 1% hydrocortisone solution without a doctor’s prescription. Stronger corticosteroid creams however can only be obtained with a prescription. Therefore, you may want to consult your GP if you need a stronger anti-itch brand.
Whatever cream you decide to use, ensure to apply it correctly by following the directions on the package.
- Calamine Lotion
Calamine lotion is a mixture of either zinc oxide and zinc carbonate, or zinc oxide and 0.5% ferric oxide. It’s usually rubbed on the skin to treat conditions such as sunburn, chicken pox, poison oak, and insect bites. As such, you can use this lotion to soothe itching bed bug bites. This lotion also helps to dry out the bedbug rash and protects your skin from infection during the healing process.
- Oral Antihistamine
Oral antihistamines are ideal mostly for people who show signs of an allergic reaction from bedbug bites since Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) is a common anti-allergy medication that can control the swelling and rash. However, Benadryl causes drowsiness as a side effect and hence it should not be taken shortly before driving or operating machinery.
Your pharmacist can also recommend other oral and topical OTC antihistamines that are suitable for bed bug rash. For the best results, complete the recommended dosage when taking oral antihistamines and follow package instructions for topical anti-allergy creams.
Excessive scratching of bedbug welts causes secondary skin infections. In such cases, doctors usually prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Anti-biotic drugs will kill the bacteria causing the infection.
Antibiotics can also be used alongside topical treatments that soothe itchiness on insect bites. However, you will need a doctor’s prescription to buy antibiotics as these drugs cannot be bought over the counter.
- Pain Relieving Pills
There are people whose skin becomes painful because of bedbug welts. The pain can present itself as a persistent burning sensation. In such scenarios, pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory drugs may be used to ease the discomfort. A few examples of such drugs include:
Aspirin has analgesic properties. This means that it can relieve pain associated with bedbug welts. Its working mechanism involves blocking of pain signals in the brain. However, aspirin is not safe for children.
- Acetaminophen ((Tylenol)
Much like aspirin, acetaminophen is a potent analgesic. However, this drug is safer to use on children that have bedbug bites. The only downside is that it won’t do much to reduce the swelling.
Ibuprofen works as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It reduces the hormones that cause swelling and pain in the body. This in turn provides some relief when treating itchy and engorged bites.
Caution: While there are many medications that can treat bedbug bites, keep in mind that there could be side effects too. Therefore, it’s prudent to check for contraindications before using any medication to treat your bed bug rash.
An individual bite or a large bed bug rash will eventually heal with or without treatment. However, kicking the bedbugs out of your home is the only way to stop the bites because you might have to constantly nurse bedbug bites if the root cause of the problem is not eradicated through pest extermination.
How Long Do Bed Bug Bites Last?
Usually, bed bugs don’t cause any long-term problem and tend to disappear in about 7 to 14 days after forming on the skin. However, the time it takes to heal from bedbug bites can go up to 3 weeks for highly sensitive individuals.
Scratching the bites only makes them itch more. In addition, a secondary infection can form should the skin break due to excessive scratching, thus making the condition last longer. In some people, the bites can last for just a few hours and in others, weeks. It depends on the individual’s reaction and intensity of the bites. Since bedbug bites are essentially an allergic reaction, the duration they will last ultimately depends on how allergic you are to them.