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Bed Bug Bite


  • Bites from bed bugs

Symptoms of Bed Bug Bites

  • Usually cause itchy, red bumps in a group or line
  • Often they look like a hive or mosquito bite
  • Bite may have a red dot (puncture) in the center. This is where the bed bug bit through the skin.
  • Occasionally, a small blister can occur in the center
  • Bites are usually on exposed skin (arms, legs and face)
  • Bites are usually first noted in the morning.

Diagnosis of Bed Bug Bites

  • Live bed bugs hide and are not usually seen. Close inspection of the mattress may find some.
  • They are ¼ inch (6 mm), flat, oval shaped, reddish-brown bugs.
  • Suspect bed bugs if over 3 red bumps in a row are on exposed skin. The bumps or bites are very itchy.
  • Bed bug waste is found on bedding or mattress seams. It looks like dark brown flecks or coffee grounds.
  • A blood stain on the sheet may sometimes be found. This is from a bug smashed after feeding.

Cause of Bed Bug Bite Reactions

  • The skin bumps are the body's reaction to the bug's saliva.
  • While the bug is sucking blood, some of its secretions get mixed in.
  • Bed bugs are small visible blood-sucking bugs. They are about ¼ inch (6 mm) in length.
  • During the day, bed bugs hide in the corners of mattresses. They may also be found in bed crevices, floors, and walls.
  • At night, the bed bugs come out of hiding. They feed on humans for about 5 minutes.

Prevention of Getting Bed Bugs

  • Over half of bed bug infestations within homes start after recent travel.
  • Avoid hotels and hostels where bed bugs have been reported.
  • When you check into a hotel room, look for signs of bed bugs. Look for flecks of their waste (like coffee grounds) in the bedding and mattress. If present, ask for another room.
  • Keep your luggage and clothing on a luggage rack off the floor.
  • When you return from a trip, place all travel clothing into the clothes dryer. Run the dryer for 20 minutes. Reason: the heat will kill any bed bugs or their eggs that are present. One pregnant bed bug can spread bed bugs to an entire house.

Frequent Questions (FAQs)

  • Can bed bugs transmit HIV or hepatitis? This is highly unlikely. It has never been reported.
  • Do bed bugs like dirt? Not really. What bed bugs like is the warmth of the human body. Dirty and cluttered spaces just give bed bugs a place to hide.
  • Are bed bugs too small to be seen? No. You can see adult bed bugs. They are about the size of an apple seed (4-7 mm; ¼ inch).
  • Are bed bugs scared of the light? They do prefer darkness. But keeping the light on will not stop bed bugs from biting you.

When To Call

Call 911 Now

  • Life-threatening allergic reaction suspected. Symptoms include sudden onset of trouble breathing or swallowing.
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Spreading red area or streak with fever
  • Spreading red area or streak that's very large
  • Your child looks or acts very sick

Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Painful spreading redness started more than 24 hours after the bite. Note: any redness starting in the first 24 hours is a reaction to the bite.
  • More than 48 hours since the bite and redness gets larger
  • You think your child needs to be seen

Contact Doctor During Office Hours

  • Severe itching not better after 24 hours of using steroid cream
  • Scab that looks infected (drains pus or gets bigger) not better with antibiotic ointment
  • After 7 days, bites not better
  • After 14 days, bites not gone
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Normal bed bug bite

Care Advice

What You Should Know About Bed Bug Bites:

  • Bed bug bites cause itchy red bumps.
  • They are usually less than ½ inch (12 mm) in size.
  • Some are larger (like a hive). These are normal reactions to a bed bug.
  • A large hive does not mean your child has an allergy.
  • The redness does not mean the bite is infected.
  • Bed bugs do not carry any infectious diseases.
  • Don't panic: you can get rid of bed bugs from your home.
  • Here is some care advice that should help.

Steroid Cream for Itching:

  • To reduce the itching, use 1% hydrocortisone cream (such as Cortaid). No prescription is needed.
  • Apply 3 times a day until the itch is gone.
  • If you don't have, apply a baking soda paste until you can get some.

Allergy Medicine for Itching:

  • If itching becomes severe, give a dose of Benadryl.
  • No prescription is needed. Age limit: 1 and older.

Try Not to Scratch:

  • Cut the fingernails short.
  • Help your child not to scratch.
  • Reason: prevent a skin infection at the bite site.

Bed Bug Repellents - Not Helpful:

  • Insect repellents do not keep bed bugs from biting.
  • Repellents containing DEET (used on skin) and permethrin (used on clothing) do not help.

Removing Bed Bugs from Your Home:

  • Getting rid of bed bugs requires a licensed pest control service.
  • Look in the phone book or on the internet under Pest Control.

What to Expect:

  • Any pinkness or redness usually lasts 3 days.
  • The swelling may last 7 days.
  • The itch may last for 2 weeks.

Call Your Doctor If:

  • Bite looks infected (redness gets larger after 48 hours)
  • Large red bumps last more than 7 days
  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Your child becomes worse



Bed bug

This is a full-grown bedbug. Bedbugs are small brown bugs which are less than ¼ of an inch (6 mm) long. Bedbugs hide in the seams, folds and creases of mattresses and upholstery. They come out at night. During the day, you might see signs of them, such as shed skin, waste or blood marks on the linens.

Source: Self Care Decisions, LLC
From the Dr. William Weston Collection of Pediatric Dermatology. Used with permission.

Bed Bug Bite

This is what a bed bug bite looks like. It can take a few days for the bites to appear after a bed bug bites you. The bites are usually itchy and often have a burning feeling. Try not to scratch and break the skin because this can cause an infection.

Source: Self Care Decisions, LLC
From the Dr. William Weston Collection of Pediatric Dermatology. Used with permission.

Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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