How do you know if you’ve got bed bugs?

From stopping an infestation and identifying your bites to how to get rid of them, here's everything you need to know...

Words by Kay Field

Bed bugs: tiny creatures that infest your bed and suck your blood when you sleep. The thought of them alone is enough to make your skin crawl and ensure you have a sleepless night. But what actually are they? Here’s a 101 on what to look out for if you think you may have bed bugs, how to treat their bites and how to get rid of them and make sure they stay gone.

What are bed bugs?

Getting their namesake by inhabiting warm areas, preferably mattresses, bedding and carpets, bed bugs bite and suck human blood, sometimes leaving red, itchy bite marks. Whilst they aren’t dangerous, bedbugs are easily spread, difficult to remove and frankly just extremely irritating. The most common misconception about bed bugs is that they are related to sleep hygiene, when actually bed bugs aren’t picky about where they set up camp and are just as likely to infest a clean bed as they are a dirty one.

What do bed bugs look like?

Bed bugs could best be compared to an apple seed; about 5mm in size, flat, oval-shaped and browny-reddy coloured. They cannot fly but crawl around at night when most active, shedding their shells as they move.

How can you get bed bugs?

Bed bugs can be easily spread and transported in luggage. Because of this, bed bugs are often picked up in hotels and hostels before being brought home, where they make themselves comfortable and inhabit beds, carpets, furniture and clothes. They can also be picked up through second-hand furniture.

bed bugs

How will I know if I’ve got bed bugs?

There are a few signs to look out for if you think you might have bed bugs: potential bite marks, remnants of shells or residue bed bug excrement, spots of blood on bedding from squashed bugs or possibly a musty smell in your room.

What do bed bug bites look like?

Bed bug bites will often appear on exposed skin, showing up as red, itchy bumps. Marks will often be in a line formation and usually fade within a few days but can become infected if scratched.

Do bed bugs transmit disease?

Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. They can however be extremely irritating and if overly scratched can lead to bacterial infections.

How do you treat bed bug bites?

Like mosquito bites, they should fade within a week but it’s important to resist irritating the marks (so avoid scratching!) and keep the bumps clean. Anti-itching cream, antihistamines and ice packs can all help the urge to itch your bites, or antiseptic creams should be used in the off chance marks become infected.

How do you get rid of bed bugs?

Getting rid of bed bugs is difficult and will require a total overhaul: household items such as bedding, curtains, clothes, stuffed animals and shoes all need to be washed and dried on a high heat. Carpets, furniture and bedding all need to be hoovered and hoover contents disposed of immediately, whilst infested mattresses may need to be disposed. Often, bed bug exterminators are the best answer to ensure all bed bugs are gone, as the insects can survive for a year without blood.

How can I prevent a bed bug infestation?

The best way to reduce your chances of getting bed bugs is by frequently checking. Inspect clothing seams and bedding and keep your house clean, hoovering and washing bed sheets often. When travelling, check mattresses and beds when you first check-in and try to keep the suitcase away from your bed, either in a luggage holder provided by the room, a wardrobe or bathroom.

Should I go to the doctor about bed bugs?

You shouldn’t need to contact a doctor about bed bugs, but if you need help identifying your bites or if your bites get infected and become painful, talk to your GP.

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