​​Bed Bug Rash Symptoms & Treatment

Most of the population has an allergic reaction to one thing or another. Bed bug bites are no exception. While some of the population won't have any symptoms at all, most others will develop a bed bug rash or swollen, raised or red marks where they have been attacked.

In this article, I will tell you all of the information I have accumulated about bed bug rashes, the symptoms, treatments, and prevention. I will discuss the side effects, how the rash happens and how long it lasts.

I will also tell you the best ways to treat a bed bug rash and what you can do at home to lessen the severity, intensity, and duration of the bites, and the rash they can leave behind.


Bed Bug Rash

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What Does Bed Bug Rash Look Like?

To know if your rash is from bed bugs you first need to decipher if you have bed bugs. Unless you actually see the little insects on your skin, you may not know you have bed bugs for some weeks.

Bed bugs will generally feed on exposed skin, which will include the torso, neck, arms, hands and ankles or feet. You can tell if you have bed bugs by noticing the characteristics of their presence.

You may notice small drops of blood on your bedding, cast skin shells in your sheets and even fecal matter left behind, which appears as small dark brown or black spots.

Because each person reacts differently, you will need to pay special attention to your particular side effects. In general, when there is a reaction the bite area will be slightly tender, may turn red and begin to itch.

It is also possible for the bite location to become raised or inflamed. Depending on the number of bites and their location will also determine if the bed bug rash is widespread or centrally located in one area.

When you develop a bed bug rash, it will appear similar to flea bites and can even look as bad as multiple mosquito bites. The skin can materialize as itchy and inflamed, red and swollen, with some redness and irritation emanating from the bite area. If the bites are close enough together, this can spread out over a large area and look a lot worse than it is.

Bed Bug Bites

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Side Effects and Symptoms of a Bed Bug Rash

The toxins in the saliva that we react to will affect us all in completely different ways. Unfortunately, most symptoms won’t show up for a day or longer, if ever. This can make it even more difficult to know you have an infestation before it becomes out of hand.

The primary tell-tale signs are welts and redness at the bite location. Similar to a mosquito bite, the center where the bite actually took place will sometimes itch or be tender to the touch.

The area around the bite will usually turn red and spread out from the bite location in various patterns. When you do have a reaction, you will most likely see them form in a straight line along your arm, leg, back or chest. This area will depend mostly on what position you sleep in and what areas of skin you leave exposed.

In lesser symptom showing persons, you may not experience any ill effects at all. However, the actual bite location should remain tender for a few hours. If you have an area that is tender to the touch, you should inspect further to see if you notice any bite marks.

For those that suffer more severe reactions, the bites will burn at the location and the rash will develop quickly. If you are one of the more severe reacting individuals, you should refrain from scratching and itching.

The itch and burn will become pretty intense and can even lead to welts and swell a lot, ,appearing like blisters on your skin.

Bed Bug Bites

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If this happens to you, you should seek out medical attention to prevent further reactions and seek relief treatment with medicines or topical ointments.

You should also be aware that bed bug infestations can cause anxiety, insomnia and other psychological problems. Dealing with the problem quickly is the best method to restore your peace of mind.

How Does a Bed Bud Rash Happen?

Rashes will generally only occur in those that have a moderate to severe allergic reaction to the bed bug bites.

The bed bugs have a small scissor-like beak that will penetrate the skin and suction out the blood. Their saliva is mixed with a toxin that acts as an anticoagulant which allows them to feed on a single bite wound for about ten minutes.

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It is this anticoagulant that causes the reaction, if any, in our skin. Bed bugs also secrete a sweet and musty odor from their glands that is sometimes compared to that of coriander. In extremely rare cases this secretion can also cause a reaction in the bite location; however, the symptoms of this reaction are very slight and identical to the reactions from the anticoagulant.

Once we are sedentary, usually sleeping in our bed, or still in a recliner for a length of time, the bed bugs will come out of hiding and begin to find an area of exposed skin to get their blood from. They will crawl on our skin and find a suitable bite location and then break the skin with their beak.

Once broken the secreted toxin will prevent the tiny wound from closing up and they can then drink the blood that escapes in small droplets.

When they have had their fill, bed bugs will return to their hiding spot and wait until the next time they are hungry.

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

It should be noted that preventing them from biting you will not kill them. Bed bugs, as adults, need to feed on blood only once every ten months to survive. They can even go without oxygen for several months.

If their primary food source is cut off, say you decide to go to a hotel for a few weeks, they will sit and wait for it to return. If it has been close to their ten-month time limit since their last meal, they will seek out a secondary source. They have been known to feed on dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, and birds. Any pet you have at home will become a secondary food source until you return.

As the secretions and toxins sit on our skin and just under the surface where the bite took place, our skin will begin to react. Blood will rush to the area to bring white blood cells to help fight off the attacking toxins. This is why the bite areas turn red.

Our bodies will also naturally try to seal the wound and will generally overpopulate the area with blood cells, resulting in welts, raised bumps and even blister-like areas.

How Long Does The Bed Bug Rash Last?

As mentioned above, the reactions of bed bug bites vary from person to person. As do the lasting effects. Since it can take a day or longer even to develop the rash symptoms (if you get them at all), it can take just as long for the bed bug bites to go away.

Most rashes will begin to dissipate within a few hours of you waking up. The redness and swelling will usually be gone within a day or two. If you only had one bite that you reacted to, you should be completely symptom-free within 48 hours.

However, you are not likely to only have one bite. You can expect a multitude of new bites every night and the longer the bites persist, the longer the symptoms will stay.

The good news is that unlike mosquito, bed bugs do not transmit diseases to humans if they carry any in the first place. Even if your spouse shares your bed and has a disease (as an extreme example) and the same bed bug bites him or her and then comes and bites you within a minute, you will not be in any danger of having the disease transmitted to you.

Likewise, unlike roaches, bed bugs do not carry germs. They will not leave messes and have the possibility to infect you or your food supply with germs as they move around. They also do not need dirty conditions to live. If you have bed bugs, it is not because you have unclean habits or have a dirty house.

They feed solely on blood and do not care how dirty or clean you or your house is. Once you have an infestation, you will have bites. The bites and their duration will last until they are gone. This can take weeks or even months. During this time, your individual bite symptoms may only last a day or two, but the cumulative effect will last until the bed bugs are removed from your home.

Best Ways To Treat Bed Bug Rash

Keeping your skin clean and refraining from scratching is going to be your best method of spreading the rash and getting rid of bed bug bites. If you scratch, you can cause a secondary infection and bleeding.

Wash Well

Once you notice the redness and swelling the best thing to do is to wash the area with warm, soapy water, rinsing well and patting dry. Keeping the area clean will reduce the risk of causing secondary infections. Remember, bites are open wounds, they will scab over and become itchy.

Scratching will remove the scab and allow bacteria into the wound and blood to discharge from it.


You can also use any over the counter anti-itch cream to lessen the severity of the itch and help you to prevent scratching the area. If over the counter creams aren’t working well enough, you can speak to your dermatologist for a prescription strength anti-itch cream or ointment.

When using either prescription or over the counter lotions, you should follow the directions carefully. Do not overuse or overdose the medication as this could lead to other problems or symptoms.

Control The Source Of Infestation

One of the best ways to stop bed bug bites is to stop being bitten. This is easier said than done, but getting rid of the source of the bites is the end goal that you should definitely be striving towards. This can be done in a DIY way, or by consulting a professional pest expert.

Severe Cases

In the event that you are highly allergic, or the infestation is so severe you have more bites than you can count, you should seek medical assistance. Welts, soreness or rashes lasting longer than a few days should be looked at by a professional.

A dermatologist will have the prescriptions and advice you need to manage the reaction. Some allergen medications have shown some reduction in swelling and irritation, such as Benadryl or Clarityn. These over-the-counter medications will help reduce the allergic reactions on your skin.

Bed Bug Rash Medicines

If you do not want to see your doctor and the anti-itch creams aren’t enough, there are products on the market designed specifically for bed bug bites. I, personally have not tested these products, however, some reviews are quite promising and the products are very popular.

As always, when using a new medication, even topical, you should follow directions as written and if you are ever in doubt, seek professional medical attention.


Bed bug infestations are never fun. They take time, diligence and some expense to get rid of. In the meantime, you will most likely suffer from bites, and there is a good chance you will have some reaction to the bites.

The most common symptoms are redness and itching at the bite location. These can become worse with scratching or allowing the area to stay dirty. You should always clean the bite areas with soap and water and pat dry.

In severe cases, the effects can last for extended times, and you should seek medical help if it lasts longer than a few days, or if the reaction is severe, painful, or produces blister-like bumps or welts.

Removing the insects from your home is the only way to eliminate the bites and their reactions. Until you do, keep a vigilant eye on your bites, keep them clean and don’t scratch or itch as this can spread the effects around even more.

If you are ever in doubt as to the severity, duration or side-effects of a bed bug rash, seek out medical attention and advice as soon as possible.

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Carefully and thoroughly inspect bedrooms and other areas where you rest or sleep for any bed bugs symptoms. Pay particular attention to beds, mattresses and upholstered furniture in these areas.

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