I’ve encountered mosquito bites, flea bites and spider bites, but never had I encountered bed bug bites, that is until I travelled to San Francisco, CA. I made the trip at least four times a year; however, this time was different—opting to stay in a nearby hotel instead of with family or friends. I remember lying in bed. The room was hot and stuffy, causing me to toss and turn throughout the night. When morning came, I was exhausted but began my usual morning routine eager to get on the road. After a quick rinse, I dragged myself over to the mirror; that’s when I noticed them—little red bumps across my chest. Quickly, I scurried over to the bed—pulling off sheets, flipping pillows, inspecting the mattress and the box spring—nothing! Ugh, how could this have happened? It was a top-rated hotel. Were these bed bug bites, or was it another blood-sucking insect?
When and how do bed bugs bite?
While you are sleeping, bed bugs will bite using their mouthparts, commonly referred to as beaks. As they bite, they release an anticoagulant in their saliva preventing your blood from clotting. This allows them to receive a steady two- to three-minute blood meal—what they need in order to survive and reproduce. Bed bugs will not bite in defense, they will only bite for the sole purpose of feeding.
Why didn’t I wake up when they were biting me?
Due to the anesthetic properties in a bed bug’s saliva, their bites are initially painless, which is why they bite while you’re sleeping. Once the numbing effect wears off, an itchy rash may ensue. My bites itched relentlessly, until I iced them and took an antihistamine, offering some relief.
How do I know if it’s a bed bug bite?
Identifying bed bug bites can be difficult. Here are some distinguishing factors to help discern them from other insect bites.
- If you felt the bite when it occurred, it was not a bed bug.
- If bites are random and spread out, it was probably not bed bugs.
- If the bite forms a blister, it could be a bed bug bite.
- If the bites follows a pattern (straight or a zig zag), they could be bed bug bites. My bites looked like The Little Dipper, crossing my chest onto my right shoulder. They also tend to be in groupings of three to five.
These factors are not definitive, as reactions and circumstances can vary greatly.
What are some reactions to bed bug bites?
Reactions to bed bug bites differ from person to person from none to a full-blown allergic reaction. A mild reaction may reveal flat, red bumps at the bite sites. A more severe reaction may include an irritating itch (as in my case), or swelling. Resisting the itch is incredibly difficult, but giving in to it can cause severe irritation to the skin, increasing your risk for an infection. It’s the chemicals in the bed bug’s saliva that trigger such reactions, some lasting more than two weeks.
How do I treat bed bug bites?
For mild reactions, try these simple home remedies:
- Wash the bite with warm, soapy water
- Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling
- Take an antihistamine to settle the itchiness
- Apply calamine lotion or an anti-inflammatory cream
How do I know if I am having an allergic reaction to bed bug bites?
Although it is uncommon, some people can suffer an allergic reaction. According to WEB MD, if you have an allergic skin reaction to a bed bug bite, use a cream with a corticosteroid, take an oral antihistamine, and most importantly, see your doctor.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction can be:
- Intense itching
In extremely rare cases, those who are highly allergic to bed bug bites could experience anaphylaxis, causing respiratory problems, hives, or tightness of the throat.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology claim that bed bugs can also trigger asthma for some individuals if a large amount of bed bug skin particles become airborne.
Do bed bugs carry disease?
Bed bugs are not disease transmitters. Studies have shown that a bed bug, testing positive for disease after feeding on an infected host, did not transmit the disease to another host. There are no confirmed cases of bed bugs transmitting a disease to humans.
Where do bed bugs live?
Known to be international travelers and expert hitchhikers, bed bugs are everywhere. As you travel, you increase your chances of being bit. However, knowing how to identify the bites and what your treatment options are will help you decide your next course of action. Learn more about where to look for bed bugs and how to avoid them with these great blogs:
This article is not intended to substitute or function as medical advice. To effectively diagnose bites or stings of any kind, you should have them examined in person by a healthcare professional.