Trying to figure out if a bed bug is biting your?
Perfect, we're here to help!
In this Pest Strategies guide you'll learn:
- What happens when a bed bug bites you?
- What does a bed bug bite looked like (and feel like)?
- Can your pets get bitten by bed bugs?
- And much more comparisons of bed bug bites and other pest bites (mosquitoes, ticks, etc)
Many people are terrified of the idea of bugs creeping around their homes or crawling on them in their sleep—and justifiably so.
Unfortunately, bed bugs earned their notoriety for a reason. These nocturnal insects feed on sleeping humans and animals to get their favorite food: blood.
This means that residents of infected areas will have to deal with small bites and the uncertainty that goes along with them.
How do you know whether that small red dot on your skin is from an insidious bed bug, or perhaps from another winged creature? Keep reading to find out how to tell the difference!
What Happens When a Bed Bug Bites You?
It can be a little difficult to tell when you are bitten by a bed bug versus another stinging or biting pest. A bed bug injects an anesthetic and anticoagulant agent—essentially, this means that you don't know it is there.
Once the bed bug numbs your skin, it sucks up enough blood to sustain itself for a few days, returning again to feed only when its supply of blood runs low.
Will There Be a Scar?
Most bites do not leave scars and heal over normally within a few days. However, if you scratch at the bed bug bites, these small tears in the skin are much more likely to leaves permanent marks and blemishes behind.
If you are worried, be sure to treat the marks with soothing cream to stop itching and prevent scratching.
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Will There Be a Blister?
Only people with extremely sensitive skin will get a blister from a bed bug bite. Blisters are not out of the realm of possibility, but are most commonly found in individuals who suffer from an allergic reaction to the bite.
If a blister does form in the wake of a bed bug bite, you should consult with a doctor or dermatologist for treatment.
Will You Get Hives?
Some people do break out in hives from a bite because they have an allergic reaction to the pest's saliva or its anesthetic properties. This is only temporary, and not a one-size-fits-all matter.
If you do find that you've broken out in hives, don't panic! Mild reactions can be treated with antihistamine creams, but more serious reactions may require a trip to the emergency room.
We recommend that regardless of severity, you check with your primary care doctor or dermatologist in the event of a hives breakout.
What if You're Pregnant?
Bed bug bites are not harmful to humans and should not harm pregnant women or the unborn child.
However, some women will have more severe skin reactions because of hormonal differences, and insecticidal chemicals should never be sprayed where the women might inhale them.
Bed bugs are not known to spread disease, which means that while they cause extreme discomfort and unpleasantness during pregnancy, they won't cause any concrete harm to mother or child.
What Does a Bed Bug Bite Look and Feel Like?
Most people don't know they have bites until they see them. A bite looks like a small, red lump, and there will usually be more than one.
Bed bugs are unique because their markings are usually left in clusters, lines, or distinctive groupings. This is because the pest moves along the skin as it feeds.
These red welts normally itch once a person wakes up, however this isn't always the case. Symptoms will vary from person to person, as all skin types are different. People who experience more severe reactions like hives or trouble breathing should see a medical professional—these are signs of an allergic reaction to bed bug saliva.
Where Will a Bed Bug Bite You?
Bed bugs tend to bite areas that are exposed when you are sleeping.
This means that marks typically appear on the arms, legs, back, neck, and face. People who wear fewer clothes can expect to find bites all over.
We have published a full guide on bed bugs with tons of information on what they look like, where they live, and of course how to combat them. For details, check out our bed bug guide.
Do Bed Bugs Bite Dogs and Cats?
In the mealtime hierarchy system, bed bugs would much prefer to make a meal out of humans, period. They will, however, settle for cats and dogs in a pinch.
The problem with bed bugs and pets is that these insects can be easily mistaken for ticks, so it's of the utmost importance to remove any parasitic pests from your furry friends and identify them properly.
Bed Bug Bites vs. Mosquito Bites
Many people mistake a bed bug bites for mosquito bites, but there are a few key differences.
Right off the bat: mosquitoes will usually leave one or two large, distinctive marks on a victim's skin. In addition, you'll probably feel the mosquito when it bites you, as the bites are painful and mosquitoes lack the numbing power of bed bugs' saliva.
Bed bug bites, on the other hand, usually occur in a cluster rather than in pairs or singles. It's not strange to see several bites in one spot, or not feel any of them take place (as bed bugs numb the skin with their saliva).
Take a look at what research entomologist Jeff White has to say about the distinct characteristics of bed bug bites and how they affect people in the video below.
Bed Bug Bite vs. Tick Bite
Tick bites, while keeping the same color and shape, tend to be slightly larger than those of bed bugs.
Ticks will also leave one bite per pest and can spread dangerous illnesses like Lyme disease. Usually, the tick will still be attached and needs to be removed properly to prevent the head from remaining behind.
Bed bugs, however, do not reside on their hosts, but rather feed and immediately go back into their hiding places.
Bed Bug Bite vs. Flea Bite
These two bites are the most easily mixed up, but luckily, there's a simple fix. The way to tell which kind of mark you have is to look at two different aspects:
- location on your body
- quantity of bites in the area
Flea bites tend to be more sporadic and are commonly found around the feet and ankles. In contrast, bed bug bites can be found on places with exposed skin like the arms and neck. Also, bed bugs also bite in lines or patterns.
Bed Bug Bite vs. Chigger Bite
There are many similarities between the markings from these two pests. The easiest way to tell which is which is to look at the location of the bite on your body.
Chiggers tend to bite people around the waist and leave welts behind. Bed bugs can bite anywhere, usually on or above the abdomen. Their marks are also closer to small bumps instead of welts.
Bed Bug Bite vs. Hives
Anyone who has ever suffered an outbreak of hives understands that anything can be a trigger. An allergic reaction to food, something in the environment, or even a bug bite can cause this splotchy skin irritation.
Hives are angry, red welts which spread across the skin where the irritant has come into contact with you. They can also form painful red bumps or wheals and remain connected in splotchy patterns.
This is different from bed bug bites, which will be fewer in number and tend to form lines. Hives can be treated with antihistamines.
Bed Bug Bite vs. Poison Ivy
Poison ivy and other plants like poison sumac excrete an oil called urushiol. This oil causes a nasty, blistering rash which has a splotchy appearance with raised blisters.
This is highly distinguishable from a cluster of bed bug bites because the bites are a succession of raised lumps, not blisters. Bites also do not typically form splotchy rashes unless you have an allergic reaction.
Bed Bug Bite vs. Regular Rash
Here's a fun fact: there's really no such thing as a "regular rash."
The most common symptom of any rash is skin redness, which will give off a splotchy appearance. A bed bug bite will look like a raised bump, while skin rashes will look like someone smeared you with strawberry jelly.
In addition to the physical appearance, rashes are also warm to the touch because they are a form of skin irritation.
Bed Bug Bite vs. Chicken Pox
Many people prevent chicken pox by getting a vaccination. If you've never had the vaccination, though, and you do contract chicken pox, it can seem difficult to differentiate between itchy bed bug bites and notoriously pricking chicken pox.
You can differentiate between bed bug bites and chicken pox by looking at the quantity and type of markings. Chicken pox is a viral infection which will spread all around the body—bed bugs will bite frequently, but they don't bite that many times!
In addition, the marks of chicken pox are also irritated, fluid-filled blisters. A bed bug bite, however, will be a simple red bump without any pus or fluid.
Bed Bug Bite Remedies
You'll find a lot of home remedies on the internet, but they're not always the most accurate. Professionals from the American Academy of Dermatology generally recommend two treatments:
- Wash the bites with soap and water to prevent infection
- Treat the itching with a corticosteroid cream
The best way to make the bites go away is to do the following:
- Refrain from scratching, even if the itching feels unbearable
- Cover the bites with bandages, but allow them enough air to breathe.
If they really bother you, booking an appointment with your dermatologist for a second opinion is your best bet.
How Long Do Bed Bug Bites Take to Heal?
The American Academy of Dermatology determined that it takes most individuals 1-2 weeks for their bites to heal.
Unfortunately, though, the pests get hungry and feed every few days. This means that if your home is infested, you might have new bites to replace the old ones once your skin is on the mend.
The old adage still rings true: Don't let the bed bugs bite.
If you find a strange marking on your skin, it can be unnerving if you don't know what caused it. But by educating yourself on what the bite looks like, where it's located on your body, and what other reactions it may have caused, you can start to hunt for the final pieces of the puzzle.
And if all signs point to bed bugs, we've got you covered in that department, too.
Other Bed Bug Guides
Curious about other bed bug related articles? Check out our other detailed guides to help you deal with your pest problems.