Treatments for Bedbug Bites Itching and Inflammation

Bedbug Bites: Treatment for Itching and Inflammation


Travelers became concerned about bedbugs in the early 2000s when the tiny biting insect started turning up in some high-end hotels. Bedbugs had pretty much disappeared from the U.S. lodging scene until a 1972 DDT insecticide ban was implemented. The powerful insecticide was used to kill bed bugs and other insect pests and after it was banned, we started hearing about bedbugs again.

Bedbugs didn’t discriminate. They showed up in the folds of mattresses in hostels as well as fine hotels. And it took quite a bit of work to eliminate them. The media was full of stories about bedbug infestations and the travelers who suffered from the itchy red bumps on their skin. While alternative means to destroy the small bugs have reduced the number of incidences reported, there are still travelers who encounter them, get bitten and need to deal with the bites.

When it comes to bedbug bites, everyone reacts differently. Some people just have small red marks, while others have a more severe allergic reaction to the bedbug bites. The best treatment options for bedbug bites include anti-itch cream, topical antiseptics (to ward off infection), and oral antihistamines. These treatments for bedbug bites are over-the-counter.

If you have a severe reaction to bedbug bites, see a doctor; you may need a corticosteroid. In general, bedbug bites are not dangerous but if you scratch them, you could end up with an infection and scarring.

If you are not certain your attackers were bed bugs, these pictures of bedbug bites will help you find out.

Neosporin + Plus Pain Relief

For mild bedbug bites, an antibiotic cream is recommended. I like Neosporin + Plus Pain Relief. This maximum strength first aid antibiotic cream is available over the counter in a variety of sizes and can be taken along while traveling.

Neosporin Neo To Go! First Aid Antiseptic/Pain Relieving Spray

Many like the Neosporin spray for small children who don’t want to have a cream rubbed on them, or are sensitive to you touching their boo-boos. It’s also extremely convenient to carry, as you can throw it in a purse or a pocket and even add it to a keyring.

Hibiclens Antimicrobial and Antiseptic Skin Cleanser Liquid

Hibiclens is a respected product often used in hospitals. Use this antiseptic skin cleanser to wash your bedbug bites in the shower every day. Hibiclens will help prevent infection.

First Aid Only Antiseptic Cleansing Wipe

These wipes work best for small areas. Wipe them right on the bedbug bites to guard against infection. Some like the no-sting variety best.

Benadryl Topical Itch Stopping Cream

It’s always a good idea to keep a tube of this handy. You can rub it right on the bedbug bites and it will stop the itch almost immediately. It​’s perfect when you just can’t stop yourself from scratching (or need to get some sleep).

Oral Antihistamine

There are a number of good antihistamine tablets on the market, including Benadryl Ultratabs and Tylenol Severe Allergy Antihistamine. This type of product is recommended if you have an allergic reaction to the bedbug bites. Be cautious, as these can make you very drowsy.

Bed bugs: Overview

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are tiny insects that feed on human blood. They hide in dark places close to where humans sleep and usually crawl out to feed while people are fast asleep.

If you have bed bugs in your home, it’s unlikely that you’ll see one unless you look for them. Bed bugs hide in the crevices of mattresses, box springs, headboards, couches, and other places. They only come out to feed.

While a bed bug is feeding on you, you’re unlikely to notice. Most people are asleep when they get bit. Also, before a bed bug draws your blood, it injects you with a substance that prevents you from feeling the bite. When you wake up, you may notice itchy welts.

Bed bug bites

Most people who are bitten by bed bugs have welts that look like this.

To find bed bugs, you usually have to look carefully. An adult that is full of blood can be the size of an apple seed. Hungry bed bugs and younger ones are about the size of a poppy seed.

If you unsure of what’s biting you, a board-certified dermatologist can often look at the bites and tell you whether bed bugs are the cause.

Bed bugs can be hard to find

They are often about size of a poppy seed.

As for getting rid of bed bugs, it often requires professional help. Pesticides are usually necessary to kill bed bugs and their eggs, but using these on or near your bed can be hazardous to your health. This is why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using a professional pest control company that has experience treating bed bugs.

See also:  Two Recipes of the Tea Tree Oil Lice Treatment, Head Lice Center

To complicate matters, many pesticides and foggers cannot kill bed bugs because bed bugs have developed a resistance to the active ingredients in these products. It takes a bit of knowledge to know what will work.

If this news makes you want to leave your home for a few weeks, well, that won’t get rid of bed bugs either. Bed bugs can survive one year or longer without eating.

Another good reason to get professional help is to make sure you actually have bed bugs. Many insect bites cause itchy welts.

Getty Images

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Joint statement on bed bug control in the United States from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).” Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010.

Steen CJ, Carbonaro PA, Schwartz RA. “Arthropods in dermatology.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2004; 50:819-42.

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Bed Bug Bite

Bed Bug Bite

Is this your child’s symptom?

If NOT, try one of these:

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 for Bed Bug Bite

When to Call for Bed Bug Bite

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

Call 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

Call 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

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

Call 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

Call 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

Care Advice for Bed Bug Bites

    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 the bite is still itchy, try an allergy medicine by mouth.
    • Benadryl is a good one. No prescription is needed.
  • 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
  • And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the ‘Call Your Doctor’ symptoms.

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

    Copyright 2000-2019 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC.

    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.

    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.

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    How to Stop the Itch of Bed Bug Bites

    Related Articles

    If you wake up in the morning with swollen, red and itchy skin, it is possible your sleep was disrupted by bites from bed bugs. While bed bug bites are harmless, the itching that accompanies them can lead to a bacterial infection, if you continue to scratch your skin, according to MedicineNet. You can stop the itch from bed bug bites with oral medications. However, you can best prevent the itch from recurring by getting rid of bed bugs with preventive treatments.

    Oral Treatments

    Avoid scratching the skin where you are experiencing the itch of the bed bug bite. Take an over-the-counter antihistamine pill, or apply steroid creams and calamine lotion over the itchy skin, or creams containing diphenhydramine to get quick relief. You can also place a hot washcloth over the affected area to experience relief from the itchy sensation. If you have scratched the itchy skin quite badly, you might need to see a doctor who will prescribe antibiotic medication to prevent a bacterial skin infection.


    Cover your body when going to bed by wearing pajamas and sleeping under a mosquito net because bed bugs do not burrow beneath clothing. Regularly inspect your mattress, bed and furniture for signs of bed bugs. Look for dried feces that resemble black spots, mottled shells caused by shedding skin, and blood spots. Treat bed bug infested bedding and discard heavily infested ones.

    Nonchemical Treatments

    You can use several nonchemical treatments to get rid of bed bugs. Regularly vacuum your bed and the areas surrounding it. Once you have finished, put the vacuum cleaner bag in a disposal bag and place it in an outdoor garbage bin. Wash your bedding and clothes at a temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and run them in a clothes dryer set at high heat for 20 minutes to destroy resident bed bugs and their eggs.

    Chemical Treatments

    Eradicate bed bugs by applying a low-odor insecticide spray or dust specially designed for bed bugs, in areas of your home frequented by these pests. Do not apply the insecticide directly on your bedding, mattress or clothing. You should also be aware that bed bugs tend to build resistance to insecticides, which can prove ineffective over a period of time. If you have a bed bug infestation, get in touch with a pest control service to professionally exterminate them.

    What Causes Bed Bugs?

    Bed bugs aren’t caused by dirt and filth and they’re not a holdover from some deadly plaque from years ago. They exist solely because of us—and they’re out for blood.

    The first thing to understand about bed bugs is that their only food source is blood. The common household bed bug needs to feed on human blood both to live and to breed. So what causes bed bugs is essentially… us.

    Bed bugs don’t have the ability to leap or fly, so to get close to their food source they hitch a ride on us and our belongings. Once they’ve arrived at their destination, they seek out places where we humans nap or sleep, they hide out, and they wait. Bed bugs are able to sense, by body heat or the carbon dioxide we emit when breathing, when their human host is asleep, then they quietly crawl onto our skin and settle in for a blood meal.

    Some of the most common causes of bed bugs are:

    • Travel
    • Population growth
    • Urban living

    Akos Nagy/Shutterstock

    Why am I hearing more about bed bugs now?

    Bed bugs were nearly wiped out in the 1950s by the pesticide DDT. But in 1972, DDT was banned because it was found to be dangerous to humans, wildlife, and the environment. Bed bugs are hardy insects, and the ones that survived did so because they were resistant to DDT (and other pesticides). These super bed bugs kept living and breeding—each female can lay three to five eggs per day and hundreds in her lifetime, depending on conditions.

    Their resistance to pesticides combined with increasing ability to spread via global travel, population growth, and urban living contributed to the resurgence that has occurred in the United States. Today, “one out of five Americans has experienced a bed bug infestation or knows someone who has encountered these pests,” says Brittany Campbell, PhD, an entomologist with the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).

    Do bed bugs live on people?

    No; for the most part, the only time bed bugs are on humans is when they’re feeding, but they do rely on us to get around. “Bed bugs travel with us, so however we may travel, they will travel,” says Jody Green PhD, an urban entomologist at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln.

    “They do not have wings or specialized legs for jumping, so they crawl onto our belongings to hitch a ride.” And they’re not picky about their mode of transportation—backpacks, luggage, purses, car seats, wheelchairs, wigs, toys, and sleeping bags are all common forms of transit for bed bugs.

    Can bed bugs travel the globe?

    Yes, and travel is a big factor in what causes bed bugs. “Global travel has increased exponentially in the last several decades, as it has become cheaper and more accessible for a wider percentage of the population,” says Eric Braun, a board-certified entomologist for Rentokil Steritech, a pest control company. “That has made it much easier for bed bugs to hitchhike and move on personal items, planes, ships, and people.” If you travel a lot, you definitely want to know how to spot bed bugs in your hotel room.

    Do bed bugs like cities better than rural areas?

    Bed bugs aren’t partial to any particular locale; they will make a home just about anywhere they find us. What causes bed bugs to choose a location is based on how and where humans live. “In the last several decades, North Americans have become increasingly urbanized, moving closer together in cities. The closer we live in proximity to one another, the easier it is for bed bugs to spread,” says Braun.

    Akos Nagy/Shutterstock

    Can I bring home bed bugs from a thrift store?

    It’s hard to pass up a good deal on a nearly new sofa, but before you buy it, consider what could lie in its folds and crevices. “That sofa could harbor bed bugs or bed bug eggs, which might not be observed immediately,” Braun cautions. Be vigilant and inspect furniture thoroughly before bringing it into your home.

    How far can bed bugs crawl?

    Bed bugs are champion crawlers and move quickly. “Over the course of a night, they could find their way down a long hallway,” says Braun. Plus they can survive without a blood meal for 6 to 12 months, Green says, which is part of the reason they’re so hard to spot and get rid of.

    Can bed bugs live in cold climates?

    “Climate does not affect bed bugs because they live with us in our homes and we keep it at the optimal temperature for both us and them,” says Green. Do chilly temps kill bed bugs? Only under the right conditions. According to Green, the temperature has to drop to 0°F for four days to kill a bed bug. So bed bugs could survive a while in your car before hitching a ride into your house. That’s why you’ll want to know the telltale signs of bed bugs in your car.

    Is getting bed bugs inevitable?

    Green offers this helpful analogy: “Think of bed bugs like germs. We carry germs around; they need people to survive, but sometimes we leave germs in places, and other people pick them up and get sick. All people are exposed, everyone can get sick from germs, but not all people do get sick. Not every case is the same, but all cases can be preventable with awareness, communication, and education.” Knowing these 16 secrets about bed bugs will help you to keep them at bay.

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