Bedbugs are tiny insects that feed on blood from humans or animals. Over-the-counter treatments can help relieve itching and inflammation.

Bedbugs can live in your bed, furniture, carpet, clothing, and other belongings and are most active at night.

Bedbugs 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.

Keep reading to learn about bedbug bites, their appearance, and how to treat and prevent them.

Bedbugs excrete anesthetic before feeding on people, so you won’t feel it when they bite you. It may take a few days to develop symptoms.

According to Pest Control Technology, approximately 30 to 60% of people never develop a reaction to a bedbug bite. When symptoms do develop, the bites may 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 typically bite skin that is exposed while you sleep. This includes your:

  • face
  • neck
  • arms
  • hands

If you typically wear pajamas to bed, the bug may bite along the line of the clothing.

Do bedbugs bite every night?

Bedbugs don’t always feed every night and can go several weeks without eating. This can make it more difficult to notice them. 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 one to three eggs per day.

In most cases, bedbug bites get better on their own. To relieve symptoms, you can try:

  • Apply an over-the-counter (OTC) 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 before sleep to decrease itching or have a doctor prescribe a stronger antihistamine.

In addition to OTC medications, several home remedies may help relieve 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

Most of the time bedbug bites don’t require medical attention.

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 a 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
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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, OTC anti-itch creams, or low-strength steroids. Make sure to cut the baby’s nails short so they can’t scratch their skin.

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

Talk with a pediatrician or pharmacist before using topical steroid creams or oral antihistamines. Some medications may not be safe for babies or young children.

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 provide several options to remove 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. 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

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.

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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.

You can take some steps to help prevent bedbugs:

  • If you’re concerned about bedbugs, you can decontaminate luggage, clothes, and belongings upon returning home using mechanical methods (brushing, vacuuming, heating, washing, or freezing).
  • 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 and run clothes through a dryer cycle before putting them away.
  • Store your clothing in vacuum-sealed bags when traveling.
  • When you return home, 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 secondhand furniture, linen, or clothing for signs of bedbugs before bringing them 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 bites from other bugs may appear similar.

Bedbug bites vs. fleas

Bedbug bites and fleabites can cause red bumps on your skin, although flea bites are typically smaller. Both can be itchy.

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

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

Bedbugs tend to bite the upper parts of your body.

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

You can also check for signs of the bugs in your home. Fleas tend to live on family pets and in carpets or upholstered furniture, while bedbugs often hide around beds.

A dermatologist can examine the bites and help determine the cause.

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 vs. mosquito bites

Bedbug and mosquito bites can 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 tend to get better on their own within 1 or 2 weeks.

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

Bedbug bites vs. hives

Sometimes, people mistake hives for bedbug bites. Hives are red bumps that can develop on your skin due to an allergic reaction or other causes. Like bedbug bites, they’re often itchy.

Bedbug bites may initially look like hives with small central bumps or bites. However, 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 quickly, 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, breathing difficulties, mouth and throat swelling, wheezing, rapid heart rate, or confusion, get medical help immediately. 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

Bedbug bites vs. spider bites

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 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 live.

Bedbugs are tiny insects that feed on blood. Although the initial bite won’t hurt, it can leave behind itchy, red bumps in a cluster or line.

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, bites can get infected and need medical attention.

Removing bedbugs from your home can be difficult once they’ve gotten in. You will most likely need the help of pest control to 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.