Bed Bug Bites and Skin Reactions

Dr. Harold Harlan © Armed Forces Pest Management Board (with permission)

Bed bugs usually bite at night while people are sleeping. They feed by piercing the skin wiht their beak, which contains two tubes. With one tube, they inject the host with saliva containing an anesthetic to numb the skin and an anticoagulant to keep the blood flowing. The other tube is used to suck blood from the host.

Everyone reacts to bites differently. These variations occur as a result of the person’s level of allergic reaction to proteins in the bed bug’s saliva. Some people have no reaction at all, while other’s may exhibit an increased allergic reaction over time. In very rare cases, the allergic response will be severe.
Typically, the allergic response is confined to a skin reaction. Skin reactions range from small, red, raised bumps to large, round welts and blistering skin rashes. Bites can be very itchy and irritating. Most bites heal in a few days, but some can stay inflamed for several weeks. Scratching bites may result in a secondary infection.

The time it takes for an allergic reaction to manifest (and subside) varies from person to person. Some people show an immediate response, other’s exhibit signs days after being bitten. Two people sleeping in the same bed can react totally differently to the same bites.
Bites usually appear on areas of skin that are exposed during sleep (face, shoulders, neck and hands), but bed bugs will also bite skin that is loosely covered by clothing. There may be one bite or many, depending on the level of infestation.

It is impossible to tell from looking at the bites if they are from bed bugs or another insect. But waking up in the morning with bites that weren’t there the night before should prompt you to get a bed bug inspection. See your physician about any medical concerns you may have.