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Bedbugs are tiny oval-shaped insects without wings that feed on the blood of humans and animals and grow in size to approximately 3/16th of an inch long. (1)
These parasites can be found in places where humans sleep or sit, which include homes, hotels, offices, retail stores, hospitals and clinics, movie theatres, and transportation. (2)
They usually live in the dark, hard-to-reach crevices and seams of mattresses, pillows, blankets, couch upholstery, headboard, box springs, and other such furniture around the house.
The bugs can eventually spread to your clothes, luggage, and other personal belongings. They stay in hiding and only crawl out to suck the blood of anyone who falls asleep on their dwelling site. (3)
Post feeding, these small, flat bugs that are originally brown turn a bit reddish and swollen. (1) The blood makes them change their color and swell up.
About 90 species of bedbugs are known to man, but the most common ones are Cimex lectularius L. and the tropical bedbug Cimex hemipterus F. (2)
Signs of a Bedbug Infestation
People generally don’t realize their living space has been infested with bedbugs until they get bitten a few times.
Here are a few ways to identify a bedbug infestation:
- Adult bedbugs are large enough to be detected by the naked eye, but newly hatched ones (nymphs) are smaller and paler, making them harder to catch. (1) You may notice small reddish-brown fecal marks on your bedding, walls, or upholstery.
- Bite marks that appear as zigzag welts on the exposed areas of the body, mostly the limbs, are often caused by bedbugs.
- You can also spot their shed skin, eggs, and empty eggshells, all of which are pretty minuscule but can still be detected by sight if you look closely.
- Bedbugs often give off a sweet musty smell.
Natural Remedies to Soothe Bedbug Bites
These remedies can be easily prepared at home using ingredients that you might already have. Give them a try when seeking relief from bedbug bites.
1. Apply an ice pack
Topical cold therapy can provide instant relief from the itching, redness, and swelling associated with bug bites, but this effect only lasts for a short period.
The application of cool temperature shrinks the underlying blood vessels to curb blood flow in the area, which may help bring down inflammation. Plus, the extreme cold numbs the underlying nerves, making the bitten skin less itchy, painful, and irritated for a while. (4)(5)
How to use:
- Wash the bitten area with soap and water.
- Wrap a few ice cubes in a clean washcloth.
- Place the ice pack on the affected area for no more than 10 minutes at a stretch.
- Repeat as needed, but do maintain a gap of 20 minutes between successive applications.
2. Use witch hazel
Witch hazel works as a natural astringent with skin-cooling and anti-inflammatory properties. When applied to a bug bite, it can help soothe the itching, swelling, redness, and general skin irritation. (6)(7)
How to use:
- Make a witch hazel decoction using 5–10 g of witch hazel bark in 1 cup (0.24 L) of water. Soak a cotton ball in the mixture, and place it on the affected area.
- Mix 1 part witch hazel extract and 3 parts water to make a solution. Soak a clean washcloth in this solution and wring out the excess liquid. Apply this compress to treat minor inflammations and irritations of the skin such as insect bites, cuts, grazes, and minor burns.
Note: Application in children under 6 years of age is not recommended.
3. Apply aloe vera gel
Aloe vera gel is credited with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and wound-healing properties that can be very useful in treating a bug bite. It helps relieve the underlying inflammation and thus soothe your itchy, irritated skin.
How to use:
- Wash the affected area.
- Apply fresh aloe vera gel to the bite site.
4. Rub a banana peel over the sting site
Banana peel is full of antioxidants that help reduce skin inflammation and promote tissue repair.
Using this topical remedy can help soothe your red, itchy, irritated rash while also making it heal faster. Plus, it may exhibit antiseptic effects that can help reduce the risk of infections.
There aren’t many direct human studies on the use of banana peel for treating bedbug bites, but there is considerable evidence to show it is an effective treatment for other insect bites. (9)
How to use:
Press the soft white inside of the banana peel onto the bitten area for several minutes.
5. Use a blow-dryer
Topical heat therapy may also help control the allergic skin reaction triggered by a bedbug and thus reduce the inflammatory symptoms that result thereafter.
The application of heat stress helps denature the painful proteins, (10) and the heat may help stimulate blood circulation under the skin to ease the inflammation and associated symptoms.
However, more extensive studies are needed to understand the efficacy, safety, and exact mechanism of this remedy.
How to use:
Use a blow-dryer to release hot air over the affected area for a few minutes.
6. Use milk topically
The proteins in milk calm inflammation and reduce redness and swelling. (11)
How to use:
Dip a cotton ball into cold milk and apply it to the affected area.
7. Give essential oils a try
Essential oils are potent liquids extracted from various plants that exhibit a wide range of medicinal properties.
Different oils are known for their various medicinal effects, but a combination of oregano (containing carvacrol and thymol), clove oil, peppermint oil, and cedarwood oil has been found effective in healing bedbug bites. (12) Together, these oils can help soothe the inflammation, fight off germs, and facilitate fast skin healing.
How to use:
- Pour a few drops of all the above-mentioned essential oils into a bowl.
- Mix in some olive oil or coconut oil.
- Soak a cotton ball in this mixture and dab it all over the affected area.
Note: Essential oils are very strong at their original potency and can be too harsh on the skin if applied directly. So, always dilute them in a carrier oil before topical use.
Signs and Symptoms of Bedbug Bites
Bedbugs typically attack their victim during sleep, and people only realize that they have been bitten when they notice the following symptoms after waking up:
- A zigzag line of multiple bite marks or welts.
- Bite marks that are painless at first but become reddish, itchy, and raised as the body triggers an inflammatory allergic response to the toxins released by the beg bugs
- Specks of blood on the bed linen
Treatment for Bedbug Bites
Bedbug bites are completely harmless but can cause symptomatic discomfort in the form of an itchy swollen rash. Although the rash tends to go away on its own within a week or two, scratching it too much can damage the skin and increase the risk of bacterial superinfection or cellulitis.
The itching is mainly due to the underlying skin inflammation, which can be reduced through the following medical interventions:
- Over-the-counter systemic antihistamines
- Topical antipruritic creams
- Mild-to-moderate corticosteroid cream prescribed by the doctor (not recommended if you have ruptured skin and possible infection) (13)
Diagnosing Bedbug Bites
In the absence of any standard test for identifying bedbug bites, doctors generally make a diagnosis by visually examining the rash, inquiring about your symptoms, and asking relevant questions such as: (13)
- When did you first notice the bite marks?
- Do you often get such bite marks during sleep?
- Have you traveled domestically or abroad in the recent past?
- Have you stayed in a hotel or a lodge in the recent past?
How to Get Rid of a Bedbug Infestation
If you suspect that you have bedbugs in your home or have carried them into your living space from somewhere else, this is what you need to do to control the infestation:
- Wash all your bed linen, clothing, blankets, and pillows in a washing machine using hot water, and then dry them in the clothes dryer using the hot setting.
- Run a garment steamer all over your luggage.
- Get pest control services to deep clean the entire area.
Most-Asked Questions About Bedbug Bites
How long does it take to develop bedbug bite symptoms?
The most noticeable symptom of a bedbug bite is that it leaves behind a red, itchy, swollen rash on the area. But this rash usually takes 2–3 days to develop, and sometimes as long as 2 weeks.
In the meantime, the bedbugs will continue to multiply and spread, allowing the infestation to grow. So, it is important to keep an eye out for other less noticeable symptoms of bedbugs during your regular house cleaning.
Are there serious or life-threatening reactions associated with bedbug bites?
In very rare cases, getting bitten by a bedbug may lead to a serious and possibly life-threatening reaction that requires prompt medical attention.
If you experience any of the following symptoms along with the characteristic rash caused by a bedbug bite, go to your doctor immediately:
- Breathing difficulties
- Irregular or forceful heartbeat
- Swollen tongue
- Blisters on the bitten area, especially if they are large in size
- Feeling very sick
- Pus or fluid discharge from the bitten area, which can be a sign of infection (especially if accompanied by skin redness and fever)
- Severe blood loss resulting in anemia due to numerous bedbug bites, but this is highly uncommon
Bedbugs are not disease carriers, but their bite does trigger an inflammatory skin reaction that leads to the development of a red, itchy, raised rash. The constant itching and general skin irritation can keep you up at night, which is another effect of this condition.
Plus, if you scratch the itchy area too much, the friction can end up rupturing the skin and paving the way for secondary skin infections that are more difficult to heal. So, whatever you do, avoid the urge to scratch. Instead, try the above-mentioned remedies to ease the inflammation, itching, and irritation while your skin heals.