Individually, bed bug bite marks have no distinctive features, but a group of bites may indicate the presence of these blood-sucking insects. Knowing more about these bites may help you determine if they are a problem in your home.
Identifying Bed Bug Bite Marks
Bed bugs do not use their hosts for shelter, but they will voraciously feed on them. A single bite mark may look like a mosquito or flea bite, with a slightly swollen red appearance. Besides being itchy, bed bug welts may be painful as well. Usually these nocturnal creatures will create a succession of feeding stations to satisfy their hunger. Health care professionals have dubbed the successive feeding marks "breakfast, lunch and dinner." This will occur as the bugs creep along the skin's surface and feed as they swarm their host. A white center may appear in the middle of some bites. The bite series will look like a raised whip mark or a winding wound of dots on your flesh. If large portions of the skin have bites on it, this may be evidence of a serious infestation. The most popular feeding locations are the face, arms and torso, but bites are not limited to these areas.
Parents should have children examined by a provider to rule out other contageous diseases vs. bed bug bites, unless parents are absolutely sure it is not a virus or illness. There is concern about a measles-type rash with children because so many parents have chosen not to have children immunized. In the presence of fever or lethargy, a rash should be examined.
Infected Bite Marks
Bed bugs inject the host's skin with a special saliva that causes itchy skin. People scratch the bite, which brings the blood closer to the surface. The tiny bugs then feast on the blood that is brought to the top layers of the skin. If you scratch the bite marks with dirty fingernails or utensils, your bug bites may become infected. An infected bite may become yellow and pus-filled. There is some question about the bugs' potential for disease transmission. While there is no definitive proof yet that bed bugs can transmit diseases, their bites may swell or ooze with bacterial infections if they become dirty.
Manifestations of Bite Marks
Not everyone exhibits the same symptoms from the bites. Some people have very few, if any, telltale signs. Most bites swell to a raised bump simply from a skin allergy in reaction to the bite. If you experience any of the following, you may be suffering from an outbreak of bites from this pest.
- Rash: Some bed bug bites come in the form of a rash. While the initial bite may be singular, the allergic reaction to the injected chemicals may cause a rash, especially if the bite is scratched and spread. African-Americans and anyone who is not Caucasian may experience a dark rash rather than a red rash. The rash may be very itchy and dry to the touch. If you suffer from the rash, cool showers, damp rags, and soaking in oatmeal may help alleviate the symptoms.
- Bumps: If you have raised bumps on your skin, you may have bites - even if they don't itch. Depending on your level of sensitivity to the bite, a bump may be the only symptom of bedbugs. Bumps and swelling usually subside within five to seven days, and the level of discomfort is different for everyone. Topical itch creams and lotions can be used to alleviate the itch and any pain from the swelling.
- Welts: Large welts may occur in lieu of a rash or bump. Welts may be painful to the touch and are normally red and appear swollen. To treat a welt from bedbugs, take Benadryl and apply ice to the welts as needed to decrease swelling. A pain reliever may be used in addition to help reduce inflammation until the reaction lessens. Welts may or may not itch.
- Hives: Hives are a quick-spreading rash of severe itch. If you have hives, your level of discomfort from the bites will be very high. Hives must be treated professionally to quickly reduce the allergic reaction and prevent further symptoms. Hive treatments include oatmeal bath soaks, cool damp rags, topical itch treatments, and allergy medication to help inhibit allergens. Hives may last for several weeks and can be very uncomfortable. Scratching should be avoided to prevent the spread of the hives.
Caring for Bite Marks
Keep open wounds from bites clean. Give all bite marks the proper care before you experience skin problems. If they become infected, you will need to seek professional help. Sometimes further treatment for bed bugs, such as antibiotics or prescription topical creams, are necessary to fight infections.
- Wash bite marks with soap and warm water two or three times a day.
- Mix one part hydrogen peroxide with three parts of water. Dip a cotton swab in the solution and rub it on the bite marks.
- Apply an antibacterial ointment to bite marks that feel tender or look feverish.
- Protect the bug bites by placing a clean bandage over them. This will help you to remember not to scratch the area and will protect the bite from infection.
Further Evidence of Bug Marks
Besides the appearance of bite marks on your skin, there are other ways to determine the presence of bed bugs. Bed bug symptoms, like strange aromas, are commonly reported with these insect bites. The smell is often likened to raspberries or decomposing fruit. Bed bugs secrete this odor as they feed and shed their shells. Dark fecal spots on the skin, bed, or sheets may be further evidence of bug bites. The marks are tricky to recognize unless you have a large amount of bites. Keep a watchful eye on suspicious bite marks and use good hygiene to stave off infections.
Known for its intense itch, this pest is a very difficult one to treat once an infestation begins. Professional extermination and the removal of furniture and beds may be necessary to rid the environment of these pests and prevent future bedbug bites.