Bed bugs are roughly the size of an apple seed and tend to hide in hard to reach areas of the house, such as bed frames, mattresses, clothing, furniture, behind pictures and under loose wallpaper. This makes them fiendishly difficult to spot but they do leave traces behind. The small insects are partial to the exposed skin of sleeping humans.
Bed bug bites do not usually pose health risks but they can cause discomfort.
As the Mayo Clinic explains, bed bug bites, which are usually red and itchy, can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
An allergic reaction can cause severe itching, blisters or hives, it says.
It can be difficult to distinguish bed bug bites from other insect bites or rashes but there are some distinct characteristics.
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The health body also recommends keeping the affected area clean and not scratching the bites to avoid getting an infection.
If you are still experiencing discomfort, the NHS recommends speaking to your pharmacist.
You can ask a pharmacist about:
- Using a mild steroid cream like hydrocortisone cream to ease bed bug bites (children under 10 and pregnant women should get advice from a doctor before using hydrocortisone cream)
- Antihistamines – these may help if the bites are very itchy and you’re unable to sleep
See a GP if the bites are still very painful, swollen or itchy after trying treatments from a pharmacist or the redness around the bites is spreading, adds the NHS.
How to kill bed bugs
Once your symptoms are treated, you must tackle the underlying infestation.
“This can be difficult because bed bugs hide so well and can live several months without eating,” notes the Mayo Clinic.
According to the health body, your best bet may be to hire a professional exterminator, who may use a combination of pesticides and non-chemical treatments.
Non-chemical treatments may include:
- Vacuuming. A thorough vacuuming of cracks and crevices can physically remove bedbugs from an area. Empty the vacuum after each use.
- Laundering. Washing and drying items in a dryer on a high setting will kill bedbugs in clothing or linens.
- Freezing. Bedbugs are also vulnerable to temperatures below 0C but you’d need to leave the items outdoors or in the freezer for several days.
How to stop bed bugs from returning
According to pest control body Terminix, a key preventative measure is to make your bed an island.
The bug body recommends keeping your bed at least six inches away from the wall.
The insect company also recommends washing and drying all bed linens including pillow cases, sheets, comforters and mattress pads at the highest settings allowed by the manufacturer.
“Post-treatment, use encasements (bed-bug-proof covers) to cover your mattress and box spring,” it adds.