“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”, is a common saying before people go to bed. However bed bug numbers are on the rise and they are getting to be harder to treat so more and more people are finding their homes infested.
Are you are waking up with itchy bites and not sure if they are bed bug bites or fleas? Need help in dealing with them? This article aims to show you how to tell whether you have bed bugs, fleas, or other nasty invaders and then how to get rid of the little blighters.
What Are Bed Bugs exactly?
Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed entirely on blood. There are many different types, but most types of bedbugs only feed on humans when their preferred victim is not available to them, such as poultry and cattle. However, Cimex lectularius is the one you are most likely to find as they specialise in feeding on human blood. Bed bugs only live for about 1 year, but they reproduce incredibly fast – one adult female can produce hundreds of eggs in her lifetime.
Bed Bugs are also very hardy – they can live for several months without eating and can withstand a wide range of temperatures from nearly freezing to as much as 50 degrees celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) for short periods.
Bed bugs were very prevalent prior to the 20th century but with the invention of DDT and other changes to the way we live their numbers in the western world declined significantly. However, as they evolved to become more resistant to pesticides and we discovered the adverse health effects of these treatments their numbers have grown rapidly since the 1990s according to the University of Kentucky.
Do Bed Bugs Bite?
Quite simply – Yes they do!
Bed bugs have mouth parts that latch on with suction. They then saw through the skin. To avoid detection they inject saliva with anticoagulants and painkillers. Most of the problems we have with bed bugs are caused by these chemicals rather than the bites themselves.
To counter these chemicals our bodies produce Histamines as our defence. A side effect of these is itchiness, but the reactions can be much more dramatic if your body over-reacts. Our reactions to bed bug bites range from no reaction at all (about 20%) through to extreme allergic reaction which requires urgent medical attention – ie call an ambulance immediately!
What Do Bed Bug Bites Look Like?
The symptoms usually do not appear right away, the bites will be visible after several days. You will see small reddish bumps, grouped together on your face, neck, arms or shoulders. The bites will become itchy after a couple of days. People who have sensitive skin may experience severe itchiness and a burning sensation in the surrounding bite area. In most people, the rashes will subside after a week or so without any medical treatment.
A single bed bug bite usually produces a swelling with no red spot after the swelling subsides. However, bed bugs follow paths laid down by other bugs to find their food. This means that you often find many bites in a small area of skin. When many bugs feed on a small area, reddish spots may appear after the swelling subsides.
You can usually tell the difference between flea bites and bed bug bites as flea bites are usually found on a person’s legs and ankles. Bed bug bites are usually grouped together and they are usually found on the upper parts of one’s body, including the face and neck.
Your skin can get even more irritated if exposed to sweat, chlorinated water, warm water, etc. If you see blisters on your skin, go to your doctor right away. Allergic reaction is not very common, but it is possible. If you experience any sign of an allergic reaction, speak to your GP.
However, while itchy and uncomfortable, you will be relieved to know that bed bugs are not as dangerous as many other parasites. Yes, they are annoying, and yes, they can cause skin irritation, but they have not been shown to spread any serious diseases unlike fleas or ticks. The main danger is that bed bug bites can cause an allergic reaction for some people which can be severe and require medical attention.
What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?
Bed bugs are brownish or reddish with flattened oval-shaped bodies that are segmented. They are often mistaken for other insects like carpet beetles or small cockroaches.
Young bed bugs (nymphs) start out translucent light brown in colour, but as they grow, it changes to a deeper brown. The translucent bodies of the young bed bugs appear bright red just after they feed on the blood they are filled with!
How Big Are Bed Bugs?
Adult bed bugs can grow to some 5mm in length and up to about 3mm in width.
Where Do Bed Bugs Live?
Bed Bugs live in the crevices in beds and bedding, closets, wall cracks behind skirting boards etc. – anywhere warm and near a food source, ie us in our bedrooms!
What Are The Signs Of Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are generally nocturnal and feed during the night as people are easier to feed on when they are sleeping. They always return to their nesting areas during daylight hours to help prevent discovery, predation, and to mate. This nocturnal behaviour means it is unlikely you will see them running around, but they are living creatures and leave behind other evidence such as:
- When changing your sheets lookout for small rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed.
- Also keep an eye out for bed bug excrement which usually looks like dark spots about this size • and may bleed on the fabric in the same way a marker would.
- Eggs and eggshells, which are about 1mm long and white
- The pale yellow skins that nymphs shed as they grow
- And of course keep an eye open for any live bed bugs.
So if you notice any of these on your bed or even on the walls close to the bed, it is likely you have a bed bug infestation.
How Do You Get a Bed Bug Infestation?
You can find bed bugs almost anywhere that is warm and dry, e.g. your office, shops, hotels, or your gym. They naturally find their way into small, warm crevices including luggage or other personal belongings, they can sometimes even be hiding on the clothes you are wearing! Once there they hitchhike back to your home and then find their way to somewhere that is warm, protected, and has easy access to their food…namely you!
In an environment like this a single fertile female bed bug in a friendly environment with a good source of blood can lay several eggs a day and hundreds in her lifetime. These very quickly hatch and breed and before you know it, you have an infestation.
How Do You Avoid Getting a Bed Bug Infestation?
To avoid bed bugs you should regularly wash your pillowcases and sheets in hot water and dry on a high heat setting for at least 20 minutes and try to prevent sheets draping on the floor or carpet when on the bed itself.
Unfortunately, because bed bugs have such thin bodies they can hide in the skirting boards, in between the floorboards, and in any small crack or crevice in your bedroom. So a good strong vacuum will not always clear every bed bug from the room.
Effective Home Remedies for Bed Bug Rashes
While bed bugs do not transmit any diseases and the rashes usually do not require any treatment and disappear in roughly ten days.
The itchiness can lead to skin problems. Undue scratching can cause sores, which can lead to secondary infections.
So not touch the affected skin, although this is easier said than done!
Luckily there are some cheap and effective remedies to relieve the itchiness. We have covered this in our article on flea bites on humans but to recap:
- Bathing the affected areas in cold water can help you relieve the itchiness and is probably the best place to start.
- Antibacterial soap will lower the risk of secondary infections so using this along with the water can be a very effective 1-2.
- Calamine lotion is considered very helpful in quelling the itches from bed bug rashes.
- Lavender oil, just dab it onto the affected areas.
- Olive oil is another good option for reducing skin irritation.
- Baking soda is another good home remedy for bed bug rashes. Mix it with water to create a paste and then apply onto the affected skin. Wait until it is dry and then wash it off.
Itch Relief Creams and Lotions
Many people use cortisone creams such as E45 but if your skin is sensitive, you can visit your dermatologist to see if you can get some soothing lotion. There are many products made for such purposes. You can find creams and gels that are very effective in preventing bed bug bites. Most of these products are applied right before going to bed. This will keep you safe during the night and prevent bed bugs from biting you again.
Anti-Histamines For Treating Bed Bug Bites
Anti-histamines limit our response to the chemicals the bed bugs inject into us, reducing the itch that is associated with the inflammation. Antihistamines can be found in two basic forms – tablets or creams.
The itching of flea bites is caused by histamines that the body releases so taking an over-the-counter antihistamine like Benadryl is one solution that will help from the inside out. It will stop the body from releasing histamines and curb itching from the bitten areas.
Topical antihistamine sprays and creams
Anti-histamine creams and sprays produce the same effect as oral anti-histamines, but in the short term, they also provide some soothing relief to the skin. We have found that Fenistil Gel is the most effective of these creams.
How to Prevent Bed Bug Bites
Unfortunately the only way to prevent bed bug bites is to make sure you don’t have bed bugs! The best way to prevent bed bugs is to keep your house clean – wash your bed linen at the highest temperature you can.
Bed bugs love old furniture, like closets, beds, armchairs, and carpets, so if you get any old furniture make sure you clean and inspect it thoroughly before bringing it into your home. They also hide in the wall cracks. Fixing your walls will help you prevent other insects, as well.
If you find you have bed bugs you may find yourself in for a bit of a fight. There are currently no effective pesticides that are legal to use inside that will totally eradicate bed bugs. If you find a small number there are some good bed bug sprays you can use that are not harmful to humans or pets.
I am sure we don’t need to tell you but make sure these products are kept away from children as while they are safe when used as instructed, they are not so safe if ingested or sprayed in the eyes! Also if you (or any member of your family) are hypersensitive or allergic to anything, talk to your doctor before using any of these chemicals.
Don’t let the bed bugs bite… Bite them back!!
If the bed bugs have got a real hold, then you will probably need to speak to someone who specializes in pest control/prevention. They will advise you on the best course of action in your circumstances.