Have you ever woken up with itchy areas you didn’t have before you went to sleep? If yes, then you may have bedbugs, especially if you got a used bed or other used furniture around the time the bites started.
WHAT ARE BED BUGS?
Bed bugs are flat, oval-shaped, and reddish-brown in color. They can live in your bed, furniture, household cracks or crevices, walls, luggage, mattresses, bedsprings, bed frames, sofas, carpet, clothing, and other belongings. They usually hide during the day and are most active at night.
You can typically find bedbugs living in areas where people are sleeping in the house. This is because these nasty buggers are attracted to body heat and carbon dioxide. Interestingly, they don’t usually move to other rooms especially if no one is sleeping there. It’s very hard to see the bugs themselves, but there are some signs of their existence such as drops of blood or small black dots of bug droppings in your bed.
Bed bugs don’t have wings, so they rely on animals or humans to get around and they typically do this by hitching a ride in your luggage, clothing or even in a second-hand furniture. They can also travel from one apartment to the next if a building or hotel has an infestation.
HOW CAN YOU IDENTIFY BED BUG BITES?
Bed bug bites are small, red, and often appear in a cluster or line on the skin. Bed bugs inject a tiny amount of anesthetic before feeding on people, so you won’t feel it when they bite you. This is why the bites are usually painless at first but then become itchy and inflamed over time. Interesting though, there are some people who never develop noticeable symptoms from bed bug bites. In fact, according to research, approximately 30 to 60 percent of people do not develop a reaction to a bed bug bite. But if you are not one of the lucky ones, here are some common characteristics of bed bug bites that can help you identify them:
- Location: Bed bug bites are typically found on areas of the body that are exposed while sleeping, such as the face, neck, arms, and legs.
- Pattern: Bed bug bites often appear in a straight line or cluster, as bed bugs tend to feed in a pattern while moving along the skin.
- Appearance: Bed bug bites are usually small, red, slightly raised or swollen with a dark spot at the center of each bite (they may also look like a hive or welt). They may be accompanied by, itchiness or a burning sensation.
- Timing: Bed bug bites may take several days to appear after being bitten, and can last for up to two weeks. In addition, bed bugs don’t always feed every single night. In fact, they can go several weeks without eating. That might sound like a great thing, but in actuality, this pattern would make it more difficult to confirm a bed bug infestation in your home.
HOW CAN I CHECK FOR BED BUG INFESTATION AT HOME?
As mentioned earlier, you may not be able to see the bed bugs in the flesh because partly of how small they are and due to the fact that they hide during the day. Luckily, there are some signs that we can look out for to confirm bed bug infestations. After all, getting rid of the bed bugs is the only way to stop the bites.
Here are some signs of bed bugs to take note for. It helps to check the places where people sleep first:
- A sweet, musty odor. Take a nice big sniff around the room. If there is a hint of sweet, musty odor in your room, hotel room, cruise-ship cabin, or other sleeping area, then there might be a heavy bed bug infestation in the room. This distinct aroma is said to be from chemicals produced by bed bugs to help them communicate, although not everyone will notice the smell.
- Spots of blood on bedding, mattresses, or upholstered furniture such as couches and headboards. Look carefully at your blankets, sheets, and mattress pads and then check the mattress and box spring. You should also check for specks of blood on all upholstered furniture, including couches and headboards.
- Exoskeletons or skin castings. Bed bugs shed these outer shells five times before they become adults and leave them behind. They are pale yellow in color. So, you may also notice shell-like remains on the mattress, mattress pad, or beneath couch cushions.
- Tiny, blackish flecks. As disgusting as it is, if you notice blackish dots on the bedding, mattress, headboard, or beneath couch cushions, they could very well be bed bug excrement or manure.
- Eggs. Female bed bugs lay white, oval eggs after mating, and they are usually found in cracks and crevices. Take note that these will be small, as a bed bug is only about the size of an apple seed.
AM I AT RISK FOR BED BUG BITES?
Risk factors for bed bug bites include frequent travelling, especially if you’re in places where people come and go often, such as apartment buildings, dorm rooms, homeless shelters, hotels, cruise ships, trains, buses, military barracks, and refugee camps. Bringing home secondhand furniture is another risk factor including visits from friends or relatives who may have bedbugs in their home.
It is also important to noted that having bed bug infestation is not a sign of uncleanliness. Bed bugs don’t actually care if their environment is clean or dirty. All they need is a warm host and plenty of hiding places.
IS THERE A WAY TO PREVENT BED BUG BITES?
Due to the bed bugs ability to travel from place to place by hiding in items, such as furniture, clothing, blankets, and luggage, as well as their resilience and longevity—bed bugs can live for months without feeding, it makes it easy to accidentally bring bed bugs into your home unknowingly.
But fret not, there are steps you can take to help prevent bed bugs:
- Frequent travelers who are at risk for bed bugs or are concerned about bedbugs should disinfect their luggage, clothes, and belongings upon returning home. They may use mechanical methods like brushing, vacuuming, heating, washing, or even freezing.
- Remember to use luggage racks when you travel to keep your clothes off the floor and away from hotel furniture.
- After returning home from a trip, make it a point to keep your suitcase away from your bed, and run your clothes through a dryer cycle before putting them away.
- If possible, store your clothing in vacuum-sealed bags when you travel.
- Seal items that can’t be washed in a plastic bag for several weeks after returning home from your travels.
- Invest in a device that heats your suitcase to a temperature that will kill any bedbugs. This would be especially useful for frequent travelers.
- Make sure to scrutinize any secondhand furniture, linen, or clothing for signs of bedbugs before bringing it into your home.
- Cover up. Do this especially when you are traveling or not sleeping in your own home. Bed bugs don’t usually burrow under clothing. So, you may be able to avoid bites by wearing pajamas that cover as much skin as possible.
HOW DO YOU TREAT BED BUG BITES?
Ordinarily, most cases of bedbug bites get better even without medications, within 1 to 2 weeks. However, to help alleviate the symptoms you can try the following treatments:
- An over-the-counter or prescription steroid cream. You may apply this to the bites to decrease inflammation and itching.
- Oral antihistamine. If topical steroidal creams fail to relieve or reduce the itching and burning, you may try taking oral antihistamines like loratadine or diphenhydramine, as well.
- Over-the-counter pain reliever. If there is noticeable swelling and pain, you may also use some pain relievers such as paracetamol to help relieve the symptoms.
In addition to over-the-counter medications, there are several home remedies that may help relieve the symptoms of bed bug 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
If you do not have any signs of an infection or a serious reaction, you can often treat the bites at home. The treatments mentioned above are reserved for mild cases of bed bug bites and may be given as first aid treatment. However, it is important to know when it’s time to see a specialist such as a dermatologist for treatment. Here are the things you should look out for:
- Many bites
- Skin infection (bites feel tender or ooze discharge, such as pus)
- An allergic skin reaction (skin red and swollen or hives
HOW CAN I GET RID OF BED BUGS IN MY HOME?
Getting rid of a bed bug infestation might be the most important step in the treatment of bed bug bites. This step is vital. Because again, getting rid of the bed bugs is the only way to stop the bites, otherwise it would just be a vicious cycle of bites.
To contain and eliminate a bedbug infestation, you must begin with cleaning up the places where bedbugs live. You can do this by:
- Using a stiff brush to scrub mattress seams to remove bedbugs and their eggs before vacuuming.
- Vacuuming and steam-cleaning your floors, mattresses, furniture, and appliances. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag and place in garbage can outdoors.
- Washing bedding, linens, curtains, and clothing in hot water at least 120 F (48.9 C) and dry them on the highest dryer setting. Place stuffed animals, shoes, and other items that can’t be washed in the dryer and run on high for 30 minutes. The high heat will kill the nasty buggers.
- Encasing your mattress and box springs with a tightly woven, zippered cover to keep bedbugs from entering or escaping. Bedbugs may live up to a year without feeding, so keep the cover on your mattress for at least a year to make sure all bugs in the mattress are dead.
- Sealing 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.
- Heating items that can be safely heated to 115°F (46°C).
- Filling in gaps around your baseboards and cracks in furniture with caulking. Repair cracks in plaster and glue down peeling wallpaper to get rid of places bedbugs can hide.
- Cleaning and getting rid of any clutter around the bed.
There are cases where you may have to give up on the heavily infested items such as mattresses or couches and just throw them out. But, before you do, make sure that the item/s is obviously unusable to anyone else so that no one else can take interest in it, pick it up and then eventually get the bed bugs.
As thorough as you may be in cleaning and disinfecting your home, sadly, it’s almost impossible to get rid of bedbugs completely without an exterminator. So, if you suspect a heavy infestation of bed bugs in your home, call one immediately.
Bedbugs are tiny, clever and very annoying insects that feed on humans and animals alike. And they can live almost anywhere in your home, including your furniture. Although their bites won’t hurt, it can leave behind very itchy, red bumps on the skin that would be very uncomfortable not to mention annoying. In most cases, bed bug bites do resolve on their own after a few weeks but for some, they may lead to skin infections which may warrant treatment by a specialist.
Removing bedbugs from your home can be very difficult and you will most likely need the help of an exterminator to locate and kill them all.
There are a few insect bites that may look similar to bed bug bites—such as flea bites. If you are unsure about what type of rash or bites you have, do not hesitate to visit your primary care doctor or dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
About The Author
Dr. Krisca is a highly-educated and skilled physician who has obtained a BS Public Health degree from the University of the Philippines Manila and a Doctor of Medicine degree from the De La Salle Medical Health Sciences Institute. She is a licensed physician and also a Registered Medical Technologist. She has received additional training in Hemodialysis for Non-Nephro Physicians on duty and has completed online courses in related fields like depression in populations from John Hopkins University and positive psychiatry from The University of Sydney. Currently, she is pursuing a Master of International Health in the University of the Philippines.
Dr. Krisca is known for her outstanding skills and compassionate approach to healthcare that make a positive impact on people’s lives. Through her passion for healthcare, she hopes to make a difference in the world and help people lead healthier, happier lives.