Why Do Bed Bug Bites Itch So Much? (15 Home Remedies)

  • Written By Dan Edwards on December 18, 2017
    Last Updated: December 17, 2020

If you’ve recently discovered that you have a bed bug infestation, you’re sure to have plenty of questions, with many of them probably based around what a bed bug bite is actually going to feel like.

Do bed bug bites itch? Unfortunately, the answer for most people is yes. Bites can take a couple of days to manifest in some people, but for others, the onset of itching is quicker.

Bed bugs have been feeding on the blood of mammals for centuries now, and for them to get to a meal, they need to pierce through the skin, causing a bite. Each bed bug has a long, sharp feeding tube that extends from its mouth known as a proboscis.

This feeding tube pierces the skin so that the bug can get to the blood. Bed bugs are equipped with anesthetic saliva which numbs the initial pain of the bug piercing the skin of its host. This allows the bugs to feed without detection.

Once the bug has had its fill, which is usually within 10 minutes, it removes the proboscis from its host, which eventually leaves a visible bite mark on most people. After feeding, bed bugs can grow up to 6 times their average size.

A feeding bed bug – CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

One of the things that makes bed bugs particularly problematic and difficult to detect is the fact that they often leave no distinguishable bite at all. For many people who are dealing with a bed bug infestation, they’ll never actually exhibit any visible signs of a bite.

Those who do have visible bites will notice that they are somewhat ambiguous. It’s challenging to differentiate a bed bug bite from other bites, like those from a flea or mosquito.

How Itchy Are Bed Bug Bites?

According to the Center for Disease Control, bed bugs pose little risk for most people and don’t carry any transmittable diseases. Except for itching, mild skin irritation and a visible bite mark, bed bugs do not pose a serious threat to most people.

If you’re allergic to bed bugs, however, more adverse reactions are possible, including severe skin irritation and in extremely rare cases, anaphylaxis. If you believe you’re allergic to bed bugs and have been bitten, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Bed Bug Bites

How Long Do The Bites Itch For?

The length of time a bite will itch for will vary from person to person. In fact, some people won’t experience any itching at all. Most people will find that a bite itches for between one and three days, or sometimes slightly longer. Research suggests that more than 90% of people will experience some form of skin reaction (and usually at least mild itching) from a bed bug bite.

While individual bites may itch for a while, it’s important to address the infestation as quickly as possible to prevent additional bites from occurring.

Bed Bug Bites

Why You Shouldn’t Scratch A Bite

Before we take a closer look at how you can get relief from a bed bug bite, we need to discuss how important it is that you don’t scratch your bites.

Just like any other bite, the only thing scratching will do is make the situation worse. Not only can scratching a bug bite cause more severe skin irritation, but it also raises the risk of contracting a secondary infection.

As you scratch the bug bite, you can transfer bacteria into the wound. Depending on your body’s ability to neutralize this bacteria, you may end up contracting an infection as a result, which can end up causing far more harm than the initial bite.

How To Stop Bites From Itching

If you’ve been bitten by bed bugs, there’s a strong chance you’re going to experience at least some mild itching as a result of the bite. The methods below can help you find relief and get rid of bed bug bites faster.

1. Proper Bite Care

The first thing you can do to stop bed bug bites from itching is to ensure you’re properly caring for the bite in the first place.

The first thing you’ll want to do is wash the bite with soap and warm water. If you have sensitive skin, try using a fragrance-free soap to cleanse the area. Once the bite and surrounding area are clean, you can consider one of the methods below to help relieve the itching associated with the bite.

2. Ice

A quick and easy way to relieve the itching is to apply ice. Once you notice the bite, apply ice to the area immediately. Keep the ice pressed against the area for a few minutes and it should help to soothe the itch. Alternatively, you could use a frozen pack of vegetables if you don’t have ice cubes.

3. Heat

Just as ice can help you find relief, so can heat. After you’ve been bitten, use a hairdryer to blow hot air onto the site of the bite for a minute or two. If you don’t have a blow dryer, try using a heated wheat bag, or take a warm shower. Be careful not to burn yourself with any of these methods, however.

4. Topical Ointments

The most popular way to provide relatively long-lasting relief from itching is to use a topical cream or ointment. Corticosteroid creams are widely used to treat skin irritation, including bug bites.

Since these creams are steroidal, the more powerful options are only available with a prescription. The creams available over the counter are usually powerful enough to provide relief from bug bites, even though they have less active ingredients than prescription options.

If the itching and irritation from the bites are more severe, consider speaking with your doctor about the best way to deal with the itching. They may prescribe a more powerful steroid.

5. Oral Antihistamine

Antihistamines can also be used to relieve itching from bug bites. There are several over the counter options available, the most popular of which is Benadryl. Just keep in mind that many of these medications carry the side effect of drowsiness.

6. Toothpaste

In the absence of a topical cream, toothpaste can be a big help. Toothpaste typically contains menthol, which has an anesthetic effect and can help provide relief from the itching of the bite.

Simply apply a liberal amount of toothpaste at the site of the bite. Once you’re feeling relief from the itching, gently remove the toothpaste.

7. Baking Soda

Baking soda has been a popular remedy for years. Take two tablespoons of baking soda and mix it with several drops of water to form a paste. Apply the paste to the site of the bite and leave it on there for several minutes. Next, rinse away the baking soda.

8. Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is another way to provide quick relief, thanks to its anesthetic properties. Be warned, applying rubbing alcohol to the bite is going to sting quite a bit, especially if you’ve been scratching at the bite. Once the stinging subsides, you’ll notice that it’s taken the itch with it as well, at least temporarily.

Bed Bug Bites
Alcohol may sting on bed bug bites

9. Colloidal Oatmeal

Colloidal Oatmeal is one of the most powerful home remedies on the planet, and it features many benefits for the skin. Colloidal oatmeal helps the skin retain moisture, it’s a powerful anti-oxidant, and it is also antipruritic and anti-inflammatory as well.

If you have bites throughout your body, try taking an oatmeal bath. Or, for more localized bites, apply the oatmeal to a hot washcloth and apply it to the affected area for 15 minutes.

10. Aloe Vera Gel

Aloe vera is a popular skincare treatment and possesses many helpful benefits. In this case, the most important benefit is the antiseptic properties of the aloe vera gel.

Both fresh aloe vera gel or a bottled variety will work just fine. Applying the gel directly to the bite will help to provide itch relief. For additional comfort, try using cold aloe vera gel.

11. Lemon Juice

Thanks to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties; lemon juice can be a helpful way to reduce the itching from bed bug bites. Lemon juice is also a natural astringent, which dries out the bite out and helps it heal more quickly.

Simply dab a cotton ball in some lemon juice and apply it to the affected areas several times each day.

A word of caution: If you’re treating bed bug bites during the warmer months of the year, keep in mind that lemon juice can help accelerate a sunburn, so you may want to avoid the sun for several hours after trying this remedy.

12. Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is similar to lemon juice in the sense that it’s a natural astringent and will help to dry the bites out more quickly. Also, witch hazel also has some anesthetic properties, which will help to quell the itching of the bite.

You’ll find witch hazel in the skincare section of any drug store, and you can apply it the same way you’d use the lemon juice remedy above.

13. Cucumber

Both cucumber and cucumber peels contain vitamin C and caffeic acid, which provide anti-inflammatory effects. This effect will help to relieve the itching and burning associated with bed bug bites.

Simply apply some cucumber peel or a slice of cucumber directly to the affected area for about ten minutes. A cold cucumber will provide an additional soothing effect, so you may find it’s best to store the cucumber in the refrigerator for an hour before trying out this remedy.

14. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is incredibly useful to have around the house, as it’s a staple in nearly any home remedy routine. Thanks to the acetic acid in ACV and it’s anti-inflammatory properties, it can also be a helpful way to get relief from itchy bites.

Keep in mind that to receive maximum benefit, you’ll want to look for raw and unrefined apple cider vinegar.

Dip a cotton ball in ACV, apply it to the affected area and allow it to dry. This should provide relief from the itching for at least a few hours.

15. Tea Bags

Tea is rich in tannins and is an astringent with mild anesthetic properties, which will help people find comfort from all sorts of bug bites.

To use, simply brew yourself a cup of tea! Take the used tea bag and place it in the refrigerator to allow it to cool for a few minutes. Next, apply the tea bag directly to the affected area for about ten to fifteen minutes. You can repeat this remedy as often as needed.

The remedies above are all effective ways to treat the discomfort, itching and burning you may be experiencing with suspected bed bug bites.

Treating the bites is only one part of the battle with bedbugs. To efficiently deal with the issue completely, you’ll need to take additional steps to rid your home of bed bugs.

How To Get Rid Of Bed Bugs With DIY Treatment Methods

Hiring pest control professionals can be costly, and while it’s usually the best option, there are some preliminary steps you can take to get rid of bed bugs yourself.

1. Carefully bag and wash all of your bedding and clear any clutter around the room. Bed bugs love to hide in piles of clothes, so remove these and wash them before you start cleaning.

3. Use a high-powered vacuum to clean around the bed to take care of stray bugs and eggs. Using a vacuum with a HEPA filter is vital to ensure bed bugs cannot escape once captured. The Shark Navigator Upright Vacuum easily ticks all of the boxes while remaining lightweight and easily maneuverable.

4. Use a specialist, non-toxic bed bug spray to clean your bed-frame, headboard, and surrounding furniture. Bed Bug Patrol Bed Bug Killer is a completely natural spray that has a reported 100% kill rate against live bed bugs in controlled tests, and most importantly, it’s child and pet-friendly.

5. Pull your bed away from the walls and place bed bug interceptor cups under each leg. These will isolate your bed and help to prevent the spread of bed bugs. Additionally, interceptors can serve as tools to help you track progress. Ideally, the interceptors should contain fewer bed bugs every time you empty them. My favorites are these Bed Bug Blocker Interceptor Traps.

6. Using a bed bug mattress protector to encase your mattress will either help to save it if it’s yet to be infested, or otherwise keep bed bugs trapped in and around it until they eventually die of starvation. My favorite is the SureGuard Mattress Encasement which is thick, strong, and will help to stop bed bugs of all sizes from getting to, or from, your mattress. A SureGuard Box Spring Encasement is also available.

7. If you wish to be extremely thorough, specialist bed bug heaters can be purchased to raise household items to a temperature that is sure to kill all bed bugs and eggs. ZappBug is the most popular option, and is designed to automatically reach the all-important killing temperature to eradicate all stages of the bed bugs life cycle. Large and small versions are also available.