The short answer: Most bed bug bites will clear up within two weeks, but if more bites are occurring, it can seem like a never-ending cycle. As long as the bites don’t become infected, there’s no long-term health concern. To stop the cycle of bites, you need to treat the infestation.
If you have bed bugs, it’s natural to worry about how long the bites will last. It’s overwhelming, but you’re not in any immediate danger. Let’s lay out some basic facts:
Waking up with some itchy insect bites is never fun, but don’t panic: if you have bed bugs, you’ll probably be able to identify them by their pattern. First, bed bugs bite you when you’re sleeping, but the redness and bumps might not show up right away. In fact, they can take a few hours to a few days to become apparent, so you might notice them later in the day or even up to a week after the attack.
While a mosquito or flea bite is often one-and-done, bed bugs don’t operate that way. They bite and move, bite and move. So your bites will look like a cluster or line of spots. If you have clusters or a dotted line, chances are good the culprit is a bed bug.
For most people, a cluster of bites will be mildly or moderately itchy. The bites are reddened bumps, so you’ll be able to feel them. Some people with sensitive skin might have larger welts or even blisters.
Bed bug bites will go away on their own in most cases. If yours are itchy or bothersome, you can use an over-the-counter anti-itch cream like hydrocortisone cream to relieve the itching. Follow the directions on the tube.
Cool compresses and calamine lotion can also ease the itch. If you’re itchy all over, an oatmeal bath can help relieve skin irritation. Try not to scratch, and if your child is affected, cut their nails short and discourage scratching.
If it’s particularly bothersome or if you scratch them and they look infected (red or weeping), get yourself to a doctor. It’s very rare, but some people are allergic to bed bug bites and might experience a severe reaction. If you have tightness in your throat, swollen lips, or difficulty breathing, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
Not completely sure that the bites you have are from bed bugs? Here are some signs you have an infestation:
If you have the characteristic bites (in a line, zigzag pattern, or cluster), you probably have bed bugs. If you have the bites plus any of the signs above, it’s a pretty sure thing.
So you have bed bugs. And maybe it’s a weekend or you realize the problem at midnight. You aren’t going to get an exterminator there right now and you need to sleep. What can you do?
First, strip the bed and wash the sheets and blankets in hot water, then put them through the dryer cycle. This will kill bugs and eggs in the sheets themselves.
Next, vacuum the mattress and all around the bed frame. Make sure you get into the little creases and crevices on the edges of the mattress. Vacuum under the bed and behind and around the headboard and footboard. Use the hose attachment to get into tight corners.
Then vacuum the rest of the carpet in the room. Whether you have hard floors or carpeting, run the hose attachment along the baseboards around the perimeter of the room.
Finally, if you have or can get a mattress cover that covers the entire mattress, that will prevent some of the bugs and eggs still in the mattress from reaching you while you sleep.
Really, though, you need to treat the problem for long-term results.
While the tips above will help reduce the number of bed bugs, it isn’t a permanent fix. You simply aren’t going to be able to get every bed bug out of your bedroom on your own unless you devote a lot of time to meticulously cleaning every bit of upholstery and washing every surface for at least a couple of weeks. It takes this long because you need to wait for all of the eggs to hatch while preventing any surviving adults from laying more eggs.
If you do want to go that route, be aware that bed bugs can live for over two months without any food sources. This means you can’t remove your mattress cover or let your guard down for that long. Don’t replace your mattress until you’re sure the problem has been eliminated; they’ll just infest your new mattress.
The best and most time-saving option is to hire a professional exterminator. They know how to safely rid your home of bed bugs and can get into the tiny nooks and crannies that you probably can’t. They’ll also be able to advise you as to how long the entire process will take. Many have guarantees and will come back to check if you suspect additional bed bug activity within some period of time.
All in all, bed bugs aren’t fun to deal with and their bites are an inconvenience. The good news is that the bites are almost never serious and effective bed bug treatments are available.