Photo credit: James Heilman, MD
The new plague has an old name: bed bugs. They’re in all 50 states, and can be found everywhere, from airports to motels to mansions. They feed silently in the dark, and leave behind a distinctive calling card: a cluster of itchy red bites. If you believe that you’re suffering a bed bug infestation, you’ll want to take action against the bugs right away, but while you’re fighting them, you may also want to treat the bites.
Confirm that they’re bed bug bites
Before you run off and buy every cream the pharmacy stocks, you’ll want to confirm that the marks are actually from bed bugs. Even if they match the description – round, red marks that may bump, swell, itch, and/or burn – the marks could be allergic reactions to food or fabric, irritations from a rough material, or bites from another pest like mosquitoes or carpet beetles.
The best way to confirm that the bites are from bed bugs is to find other evidence of a bed bug infestation. Common telltale signs can be found on or near your mattress: pull up your sheets and check the seams and folds for thin black fecal streaks or small red blood spots. You might also find bed bugs, living or dead, and their discarded shells in various hiding places, such as the joints of your bed frame.
Your doctor could also refer you to a dermatologist, who is the go-to expert in the “what is this mark” game. A dermatologist can usually tell right away if it is a bug bite, and can often make an educated guess at which bug is the culprit.
First things first: you want to take steps to avoid turning that little bite into a nasty infection. Even though bed bug bites are small, they are still exposed wounds. That means that dirt, sweat, oil, or other contaminants could cause a bacterial infection.
To help prevent this, wash the bites with soap and warm water. Don’t worry about the temperature of the water – temperatures that can kill bacteria would scald your skin. Just be liberal with the soaping, and thorough with the scrubbing. If the bites are blistered, consider applying a topical antibiotic and a bandage for extra protection.
Stop the itching and swelling
Reactions to bed bug bites can vary from case to case, person to person. Some people will experience severe burning and swelling, while others will have some minor itching. Some may not react to the bites at all.
If you are experiencing itching, burning, and other forms of pain, there are a couple of treatment methods you could try. The most common recommendation is a topical corticosteroid cream or an anesthetic, which are applied directly to the wound and rubbed in to provide relief from the itching. A possible alternative to corticosteroids is calamine cream, though the FDA isn’t convinced of its effectiveness.
To reduce the effects of swelling and rashes, you could take an over-the-counter antihistamine, which is usually in the form of an oral pill. Be sure to check the product label for possible side effects, though: some may cause drowsiness, dizziness, irritability, and vision changes, ringing in the ears, and other disrupting symptoms. You’ll want to be careful about taking these pills if you’re going to be driving or operating heavy machinery, and you definitely want to talk to your doctor first if you’re pregnant or have high blood pressure.
(Disclaimer: the content of this article is for basic informative purposes, only. Always talk to a medical professional about diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs, before beginning any treatment.)
Once you’ve dressed your bites properly, it’s time to get to work: learn how to get rid of bed bugs in just 4 easy steps, including how to stop the biting from the very first night of treatment.