Do Bed Bug Bites Hurt?

  • Written By Dan Edwards on December 23, 2017
    Last Updated: December 23, 2020

What do bed bug bites feel like? If you’re like a lot of people who are worried about bed bugs, you may be wondering if bed bug bites hurt.

Bed bug bites are pretty painless for most of the population, although sensitivity and heightened pain can occur in some groups of people.

What Do Bed Bug Bites Look Like?

Here’s the truth of the matter. If you don’t have many bites, or if you don’t know the particular characteristics to look for, you may not know whether you were bitten by a bed bug or something else. What people don’t realize is that a lot of bug and arachnid bites look pretty much the same. That makes it easy to mix up a bed bug bite with a mosquito, flea, or spider bite. Some people sometimes even falsely identify scabies bites with bed bugs.

Bed bug bites look like a pink or red spot on your skin. They can be inflamed and raised. They are roughly circular. Sound familiar? Yep, it sounds like almost any other bug bite you’ve had.

Bed Bug Bites

What you may not realize, though, is there is one telltale way to determine if you’ve got bed bugs on your hands (or anywhere else). That is the pattern of the bites. Only bed bugs bite in a characteristic line pattern. They form rows of bites.

Bed Bug Bites

This happens because bed bugs crawl across your skin, making multiple bites as they go. They just crawl in a line as long as the path is unobstructed. Other bugs, like mosquitoes or fleas, can fly or jump. Their bites are not linear because they move around to various areas, and they can cover large areas of skin quickly. Bed bugs move pretty fast, but they do not fly or jump.

What this means for your skin is that the bugs tend to just crawl along in the area they are in, in order to get the most blood as quickly as possible. They have no reason to wander around. It is part of their survival instinct to get in and out for a feeding as quickly as possible, and then retreat to their hiding spot. Bed bugs that stick around have a tendency to get squished.

Bed bugs big and small will generally produce the same type of bite.

Bed Bug Stains
Blood stains from where a bed bug gets squashed shortly after feeding – CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

No bite marks does not mean no bites

Now, here’s another funny thing about bed bug bites. You see, most of the time, the bites don’t show up right away, or even at all. The spot where the bite was can take several days to show signs of inflammation (redness or swelling). You may have been bitten without yet seeing any bites.

Additionally, for some people, the bites just don’t show up. This is especially true if you’ve never been bitten by bed bugs. Your body doesn’t know what to do with a substance it hasn’t been exposed to, so first time bites can take weeks to show up on your skin. The more times you’ve been bitten, the quicker the marks can show up.

Do Bed Bug Bites Hurt While You’re Being Bitten

Why is it so hard to know if you’ve been bitten by a bed bug? The reason is that you likely have no idea that you’ve been bitten. As mentioned above, the bites can be inconspicuous. You may be wondering, though, how can I not know that I’ve been bitten, even if the mark doesn’t show up?

I mean, you know if you got pinched on the arm, even if it doesn’t leave a lasting mark, right? You know because it hurts.

As far as the bed bugs are concerned, the joke’s on you. Their bites are completely painless. Because you are usually asleep or focused intently on something else (like a movie or book) when they bite, even if there was a bite sensation, their mouths are so small you’d be unlikely to notice it, and they only pierce a very shallow depth into the skin. This does mean, however, that bed bugs cannot bite through clothes, which I guess is a small win.

CC Image courtesy of British Pest Control Association

How far? Their mouthparts enter just enough of the skin’s surface to reach blood vessels.

Do Bed Bug Bites Hurt After Being Bitten?

In general, you’re not going to feel pain after receiving a bed bug bite. There are, of course, exceptions. The first exception is that after a few days, the itching may set in where you have bed bug bites. Some people experience very little itching from bug bites, and some experience quite severe itching that is difficult to ignore.

If you give in to the impulse to scratch those bites, then you could be setting yourself up for more pain from them. Scratching damages the surface of the skin, increasing inflammation and opening the way for possible infection to set in.

Bed Bug Bites

Another exception is that for a few individuals, bed bug bites cause an allergic reaction. This is fairly rare, but if it does happen, your bites are going to be more painful and itchy than is typical.

Bed Bug Bites

If you experience an allergic reaction to bed bug bites, you should take antihistamine medication to reduce the symptoms and possibly seek treatment from a medical professional, especially if antihistamines don’t relieve your symptoms.

How Long Does Bed Bug Bite Pain Last?

Bed bug bites often last longer than other bug bites. People report some bites taking weeks or even months to fully heal. The good news is that most of the time, the bites don’t continue to itch or cause pain this entire time. They may itch for about a week.

You can prevent continued pain from bed bug bites by taking proper treatment steps and avoiding irritating the bitten area of skin.

How To Get Rid Of Bed Bug Bite Pain Quicker

The number one step to getting rid of bug bite pain is to avoid scratching the itch at all costs. Do whatever you have to do to keep yourself from scratching. Find something to keep your hands occupied. Distract yourself with something that occupies your mind. Sit on your hands. Wear gloves. Put bandages over the bites. Many methods are available for preventing the scratching of bug bites. Find one that works for you.

You can also help reduce the itchy feeling by applying a topical anti-itch treatment to the bitten area. Calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, or baking soda can all help. They may also reduce any pain associated with the bites.

If you’ve already scratched, you may need to apply antibacterial ointment or spray and bandages to the area. Some of these even have added pain relief ingredients. Don’t use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on itchy bug bites. Even though these first-aid treatments will help clean the bites and prevent infection, they also severely dry the skin, which will only make you itchier and increase the chance of scratching and introducing infection. Excessive scratching can also scar your skin.


Now you’ve got your answer to if bed bug bites hurt. You won’t feel or possibly even see the initial bite. After several days or weeks, the bites will show up and begin to itch. This itching is more annoying than painful, but you can develop painful rashes or infections if you scratch the skin. Applying soothing topical treatments can help a lot in reducing itch and preventing secondary skin problems like infections. With proper treatment, any pain or itching should subside in about a week.