Painful or itchy marks on your skin may be bug bites, but you could also have a rash or other skin condition. If you’re concerned about bedbugs, you can check your bed and bedding for signs of these insects or connect with a doctor who can make a diagnosis.
Despite the name, bedbugs aren’t only found in beds. They’re also commonly found in sofas, chair cushions, and furniture crevices.
If you’ve been finding red and itchy spots on your skin, you may be worried you’re dealing with bedbugs.
However, unless you find evidence of the insects in your home, the bites can be difficult to identify. They can resemble other insect bites or several skin conditions.
Keep reading to learn how to identify a bedbug bite and how to tell them apart from other insect bites and skin conditions.
A note on skin color
Bug bites and rashes can look different on different types of skin. Generally speaking, they are pink or purple on dark skin, and red on light skin.
There are more than 90 types of bedbugs, but only two species commonly bite humans.
Most bedbugs are reddish-brown with a flat, oval-shaped body. They’re usually about a quarter-inch long, have six legs, and don’t have visible wings.
Identifying bed bug bites on humans
Bedbug bites tend to look similar to other insect bites. The bites are very itchy, and smaller than a quarter-inch across. In white skin, the bites usually appear red. On dark skin, they can look faint-pink or purplish, and turn deep brown the longer they remain on the skin.
However, they can also develop into large weals (itchy, fluid-filled bumps) that can be larger than 2 inches.
Bedbug bites typically occur on parts of your body that are exposed while you sleep, such as your:
Bite marks often appear in the “breakfast, lunch, dinner” pattern — a line or zigzag of three or more bites.
Bedbug bites can closely resemble several other types of bug bites. The following bugs are known to be active at night.
Many types of spiders are more active at night than during the day. Getting bitten by a spider in your sleep is fairly uncommon. Spiders generally only bite when they feel threatened.
Most types of spiders have toxic venom. The majority of spiders don’t have strong enough venom to cause serious harm to humans and only cause minor injury.
Spider bites may cause the following symptoms:
Unlike bedbugs, spiders don’t feed on blood. Spider bites are more likely to be isolated while bedbug bites are often clustered together.
Mosquitos use their long tube-like mouth to penetrate your skin. Many types of mosquitos are more active at dusk and night than during the day.
Although mosquito bites usually aren’t serious, mosquitos can carry deadly diseases like:
Mosquito bites leave an itchy welt that looks like a pimple. It usually goes away in a few days.
Although mosquito and bedbug bites can look similar, mosquito bites are more likely to be in a random pattern and are larger in size than bedbug bites. Bedbug bites are more likely to be in a straight line or zigzag.
Mites are small insect-like critters that often live on animals like birds and rodents. Mite bite symptoms can vary but generally include:
- a rash
- hard or inflamed bumps that are red on light skin or dark purple or brown on dark skin.
- swollen skin
Mite bites are very small and don’t create a noticeable puncture like most other types of bug bites.
Your chances of getting bit by a flea are greater if you have pets or if you sleep with your pets in the bed.
People often mistake flea bites for bedbug bites. Both types of bites are usually itchy and are found in lines or clusters. Fleas typically target your:
If you notice bites on your upper body or around your face, they’re more likely to be bedbug bites.
Some common insects that bite people include:
- Lice. These insects typically live on the hair on your head and bite your scalp. Symptoms of lice bites include extreme itchiness and the presence of sores.
- Scabies. These are a small type of mite that spread by sharing clothing or bedding. Scabies generally cause a rash and intense itching that gets worse in the evening.
- Ticks. Ticks tend to bite warm and moist parts of your body like your armpits or groin. Ticks can remain on your skin for more than a week after biting.
- Chiggers. Chiggers are members of the arachnid family. They live in tall weeds and grass, berry patches, and wooded areas. Only the larvae bite humans. They tend to choose warm, moist areas of the body. When the chigger falls off, you are left with bumps that appear reddish on light skin and pink or purple on dark skin. You may notice a bright red dot in the center. The bumps may look like welts, blisters, pimples, or hives.
Several types of skin conditions can resemble bedbug bites.
Hives are red bumps or welts that form on your skin due to an allergic reaction. The bumps are usually raised and extremely itchy. They can be red or skin-colored.
If the marks on your skin get larger or spread to another part of your body quickly, they may be hives.
Fungal infections usually target the moist parts of the body like:
- your feet
- your genitals
- under your breasts
Having a fungal infection can cause an allergic reaction that leads to an itchy and bumpy rash on another part of your body.
Miliaria, more commonly known as heat rash, is a common skin condition caused by inflammation or blockage of a sweat duct.
It’s most common in newborn babies and people living in hot, tropical climates. Symptoms can vary but often include red, itchy bumps.
Dermatitis hepetiformis is a rare autoimmune skin condition. It causes the formation of itchy blisters and redness on light skin, and purplish coloring on dark skin.
The condition is most common on your:
- lower back
The easiest way to know that your bites are from bedbugs is to find evidence of them in your home. Signs of bedbugs include:
- reddish or rust-colored stains on your sheets or mattress from crushed bugs
- tiny dark spots from bug feces
- specks of blood on your bed or upholstery
- finding eggs that are about 1 millimeter in size
Where bedbugs hide
Bedbugs are most active at night when they feed. During the day, they like to hide in tight crevices. Some places they commonly hide include:
- in seams of chairs and couches
- between cushions and in the folds of curtains
- around the edges of drawers
- in electrical outlets
- under loose wallpaper
- at the corner of the wall and ceiling
- in small cracks in your bed or furniture
When to call a doctor
If you noticed your bites after traveling, it might not be possible to search for bedbugs. In this case, you may want to call a doctor. A doctor may be able to identify bites visually or rule out other potential skin conditions.
It’s also a good idea to contact a doctor if:
- you develop a fever
- your bites become swollen
- your bites blister over
Bedbugs bites can look similar to other insect bites or skin conditions. The best way to know if you’re dealing with bedbugs is to look for evidence of the bugs in your home.
If you think your bites may be from bedbugs, but you can’t find any evidence of them in your home, you may want to see a doctor.