Bedbugs are tiny insects that feed on blood from humans or animals. They’re flat, oval-shaped, and reddish-brown in color. They can live in your bed, furniture, carpet, clothing, and other belongings, and are most active at night.

Bedbugs don’t have wings, so they rely on animals or humans to carry them from one place to another. They typically get into your home after an overnight trip — by hitching a ride in your luggage or clothing. Or they can enter your home if you bring in secondhand furniture that’s infested. They can also travel from one apartment to the next if a building or hotel has an infestation.

Although bedbug bites are rarely dangerous, they can be very itchy. In some cases, they become infected or cause an allergic reaction.

Keep reading to learn about bedbug bites, what they look like, and how to treat and prevent them.

Bedbugs excrete a tiny amount of anesthetic before feeding on people, so you won’t feel it when they bite you. It can sometimes take a few days for symptoms of bedbug bites to develop.

Some people never develop noticeable symptoms from bedbug bites. According to Pest Control Technology, approximately 30 to 60 percent of people never develop a reaction to a bedbug bite. When symptoms do develop, the bites tend to be:

  • red and swollen, with a dark spot at the center of each bite (they may also look like a hive or welt)
  • arranged in lines or clusters, with multiple bites grouped together
  • itchy
  • burning
  • fluid-filled blisters
  • you may also find blood stains on the sheets from scratching

Scratching bug bites can cause them to bleed or become infected.

Learn more about the symptoms of an infected bug bite.

Where on the body do bedbug bites occur?

Bedbugs can bite any part of your body. However, they’ll normally bite areas of skin that are exposed while you sleep. This includes your face, neck, arms, and hands. If you typically wear pajamas to bed, the bug will bite along the line of the clothing.

Do bedbugs bite every night?

Bedbugs don’t always feed every single night. In fact, they can go several weeks without eating. That might sound like a good thing, but it can make it more difficult to notice that there are bedbugs in your home. In fact, it may take a few weeks to realize that the bites are part of a larger pattern. And that’s problematic because bedbugs can multiply very quickly. A female can lay eggs every 3 to 4 days.

In most cases, bedbug bites get better within 1 to 2 weeks. To relieve symptoms, you can:

  • Apply an over-the-counter or prescription steroid cream to decrease inflammation and itching.
  • Take an oral antihistamine to reduce itching and burning.
  • Use an over-the-counter pain reliever to relieve swelling and pain.
  • Take a Benadryl prior to sleep to decrease itching or have a doctor prescribe a stronger antihistamine.

In addition to over-the-counter medications, there are several home remedies that may help relieve the symptoms of bedbug bites. Try applying one or more of the following:

  • a cold cloth or an ice pack wrapped in a towel
  • a thin paste of baking soda and water

Allergic reactions and infections from bedbug bites

Although rare, there have been isolated case reports of systemic allergic reactions to bedbug bites. Reactions typically included hives, asthma, and in rare occasions, anaphylaxis.

In addition, constant scratching of lesions caused by bedbug bites may lead to secondary infections, such as impetigo, folliculitis, or cellulitis. To reduce the risk of infection, wash the bites with soap and water, and try not to scratch them.

If you suspect that you’ve developed an infection or allergic reaction to a bedbug bite, contact your doctor. Get emergency medical care if you develop any of the following after being bitten:

  • multiple hives
  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing
  • swelling of the throat or mouth
  • fever
  • chills
  • dizziness
  • confusion

If you suspect that your baby or child has been bitten by bedbugs, check their sheets, mattress, bed frame, and nearby baseboards for signs of the bugs.

Washing the bites with soap and water will help treat bedbug bites on your baby or child. For additional relief, consider applying a cold compress or over-the-counter anti-itch creams or low-strength steroids. Make sure to cut the baby’s nails short so they can’t scratch their skin.

Talk with your child’s doctor or pharmacist before using topical steroid creams or oral antihistamines to treat the bites. Some medications may not be safe for babies or young children.

If your child is old enough to understand your instructions, ask them not to scratch the bites. To prevent scratching, it may also help to trim your child’s nails and cover the bites with a bandage.

If you suspect there are bedbugs in your home, look for signs of them in your bed and other areas. They usually hide during the day in:

  • household cracks or crevices
  • walls
  • luggage
  • bedclothes
  • mattresses
  • bedsprings
  • bed frames
  • spaces under baseboards
  • loose or peeling wallpaper
  • electrical switch plates
  • conduits for electrical cables
  • sofas (if a person is using the sofa to sleep on)

Bedbugs typically live near where people are sleeping in the house. That’s because bedbugs are attracted to body heat and carbon dioxide. They don’t usually travel to other rooms if people aren’t sleeping there. Bedbugs typically feed from midnight until dawn and then hide during the day in the same place they were prior to biting.

You may not see the bugs themselves, but you may find drops of blood or small black dots of bug droppings in your bed. If you find bedbugs, call your landlord or a pest control company.

It’s very difficult to find bedbugs unless you’re professionally trained to do so. Most pest control companies will do a check free of charge. If they find bedbugs, they’ll typically give you several options to eliminate them.

Remember, until you’ve eliminated the infestation, do not visit or sleep at someone else’s house or a hotel as this may potentially spread the bugs to their home or hotel room.

Risk factors for getting bedbugs

Bedbugs can live in any home or public area. But they’re common in places that have a lot of people, a lot of turnover, and close quarters. That’s why you may be at increased risk for encountering bedbugs if you live or work in a:

  • hotel
  • hospital
  • homeless shelter
  • military barrack
  • college dorm
  • apartment complex
  • business office

Bringing secondhand furniture into your home is another risk factor as is having visits from friends or relatives who may have bedbugs in their home.

To contain and eliminate a bedbug infestation, it helps to:

  • Vacuum and steam-clean your floors, mattresses, furniture, and appliances.
  • Launder your linens, drapes, and clothing using the hottest settings of your washing machine and dryer.
  • Seal items that can’t be laundered in plastic bags and store them for several days at 0°F (-17°C) or for several months at warmer temperatures.
  • Heat items that can be safely heated to 115°F (46°C).
  • Fill gaps around your baseboards and cracks in furniture with caulking.

It’s almost impossible to get rid of bedbugs without an exterminator. Many exterminators today use nonchemical eradication, such as very high heat or very cold liquid nitrogen. These options may be the most effective way to eliminate bedbugs as bedbugs are resistant to most pesticides.

Find more tips for managing bedbug infestations and learn when to call a professional.

Bedbugs travel from place to place by hiding in items, such as furniture, clothing, blankets, and luggage. Bedbugs can live for months without feeding. This makes it easy to accidentally bring bedbugs into your home without knowing.

There are steps you can take to help prevent bedbugs:

  • Travelers who are exposed to bedbugs or are concerned about bedbugs should decontaminate luggage, clothes, and belongings upon returning home, using mechanical methods (brushing, vacuuming, heating, washing, or freezing).
  • Always use luggage racks when you travel to keep your clothes off the floor and away from hotel furniture.
  • Keep your suitcase away from your bed when you return home from a trip, and run your clothes through a dryer cycle before putting them away.
  • Store your clothing in vacuum-sealed bags when you travel.
  • When you return home from traveling, seal items that can’t be washed in a plastic bag for several weeks.
  • If you’re a frequent traveler, you can get a device that heats your suitcase to a temperature that will kill any bedbugs.
  • Inspect any secondhand furniture, linen, or clothing for signs of bedbugs before bringing it into your home.
  • If you use a shared laundry room, transport your laundry in plastic bags and don’t fold it until you return home.

Bedbug bites and fleabites are quite similar in appearance, although flea bites are typically a bit smaller. Both can cause red bumps to form on your skin. Both can be very itchy.

When fleas bite you, they typically bite the lower half of your body, or warm, moist areas around joints. For example, they may bite:

  • your feet
  • your ankles or legs
  • your armpits
  • the inside of your elbows or knees

Bedbugs are more likely to bite upper parts of your body, such as:

  • your hands
  • your arms
  • your neck
  • your face

Bedbug bites also occur at night and look like hives. But later in the day they get smaller and look more like a pimple.

If you suspect that bedbugs or fleas have bitten you, check for signs of the bugs in your home. Bedbugs often hide in the seams of mattresses, cracks of bed frames and headboards, and baseboards around beds. Fleas tend to live on family pets and in carpets or upholstered furniture.

You can also visit a dermatologist who can examine the bites and help determine what the cause may be.

If you find bedbugs or fleas, it’s important to treat your home or pet to get rid of them.

Learn more about the difference between a flea bite and a bedbug bite.

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Flea bites tend to occur on the feet, ankles, or lower leg. Source: Getty Images (Dermnet, Wikimedia, etc.)

Bedbug bites and mosquito bites can both be red, swollen, and itchy. If you have a line of bites that appear in a small area of your body, they’re more likely to be bedbug bites. Bites that appear in no apparent pattern are more likely to be mosquito bites.

Both bedbug bites and mosquito bites tend to get better on their own, within 1 or 2 weeks. To relieve itching and other symptoms, it may help to apply a cold compress, calamine lotion, or other topical treatments. Taking an oral antihistamine can help as well.

It’s also possible to confuse bedbug bites with spider bites, ant bites, or other insect bites. Find out more about the differences between these types of bites.

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Mosquito bites cause raised, itchy welts. They typically don’t appear in a line or pattern. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes, people mistake hives for bedbug bites. Hives are red bumps that can develop on your skin as a result of an allergic reaction or other cause. Like bedbug bites, they’re often itchy.

Bedbug bites may initially look like hives with small central bumps or bites. However, hives from bedbug bites don’t stay in the same place for more than 24 hours. They tend to migrate to other locations or go away.

If you develop red bumps on your skin that get larger, change shape, or spread from one part of your body to another in a short period of time, they’re more likely to be hives.

A small group or line of bumps that appear on one part of your body without changing shape or location are more likely to be bedbug bites.

If you develop hives along with breathing difficulties, swelling of the mouth and throat, wheezing, rapid heart rate, or confusion, get medical help right away. You might be experiencing anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Learn more about anaphylaxis and other potential causes of hives.

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The itchy red bumps from hives may spread from one part of your body to another. Source: Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Spider bites can be red and itchy, much like bedbug bites. But unlike bedbugs, spiders rarely bite more than once. If you only have one bite on your body, it’s probably not from bedbugs.

Spider bites often take longer to heal than other types of bug bites. Some spider bites can cause serious damage to your skin, especially if they get infected. To reduce the risk of infection, wash any bug bites with soap and water.

Some spiders are poisonous. If you suspect a poisonous spider has bitten you, get medical help right away.

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Spiders rarely bite more than once, so you typically won’t see a line or pattern of bites. Photography courtesy of David~O/Flickr

Bedbugs don’t just bite humans. They can also feed on family pets.

If you have a pet who’s been bitten by bedbugs, the bites will likely get better on their own. But in some cases, they might become infected. Make an appointment with a veterinarian if you suspect your pet has an infected bite.

If you hire a pest control expert to get rid of bedbugs in your home, let them know if you have a pet. Some insecticides may be safer for your pet than others. It’s also important to wash your pet’s bed, stuffed toys, and other accessories where bedbugs may be living.

Bedbugs are tiny insects that feed on blood. They live inside furniture and other spots in your home. Bedbugs can bite humans and other animals. Although the initial bite won’t hurt, it can leave behind itchy, red bumps that occur in a cluster or line.

Bedbugs travel by hiding in furniture, linen, clothing, suitcases, and sometimes even electronics. Most bites will heal on their own in a week or so. You can treat bedbug bites with soap, water, and calming lotions. In some cases, bedbug bites can get infected and do need medical attention.

It can be difficult to remove bedbugs from your home once they’ve gotten in. You will most likely need the help of pest control to find the bedbugs and get rid of them.

If you are unsure about what type of rash or bites you have, visit a doctor or dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment recommendations.