What is bedbugs?


Bedbugs: Overview

Bedbugs are tiny bugs that feed on blood from animals or people. They have that name because they like to hide in bedding and mattresses.

Bedbugs are not known to spread disease to people. But itching from the bites can be so bad that you may scratch hard enough to break the skin. That can lead to infection. The bites can also cause an allergic reaction in some people.

The bugs can spread into cracks and crevices in the room and lay their eggs in anything that is in the room, including clothing and furniture. This makes them very hard to kill.

Getting rid of bedbugs

The best way to get rid of bedbugs is to call a professional pest control company. They use special pesticides and other equipment to kill the bugs and their eggs.

If you decide to buy your own pesticide, check the label. Make sure it says that it is for bedbugs. Be sure to follow the directions carefully. You may have to use the pesticide more than once.

Do other cleaning steps such as:

  • Vacuum often. Be sure to empty the vacuum after each use. If you use a vacuum bag, seal it and throw it out in an outdoor trash can. If you don't use a vacuum bag, empty the container and clean it with hot, soapy water.
  • Launder things that might hide bugs. Washing and then drying items in a dryer on a hot setting is adequate to kill bedbugs in clothing or linens. Turn the dryer to the hottest setting that the fabric can handle.
  • Use mattress, box spring, and pillow (encasement) sacks to trap bed bugs and help get rid of them. Be sure to follow the directions on the package.

After your mattress has been cleared of bedbugs, you can buy a special mattress cover that is made to keep bedbugs out of your mattress.

What are the symptoms of bedbug bites?

Symptoms of bedbug bites include red, itchy bites on the skin, usually on the face, neck, arms, and shoulders. Bedbugs tend to leave straight rows of bites, unlike some other insects that leave bites here and there. You may have swelling where the bugs have bitten. Some people don't have symptoms.

How can you treat bedbug bites?

To treat bedbug bites at home, wash with soap, use anti-itch cream or calamine lotion, and apply an ice pack for swelling. If bites are infected, see a doctor. Bedbugs are hard to kill because they hide in mattress cracks. Professionals use heat or insecticides. Regular vacuuming, laundering, and using encasement sacks can help.

How can you care for yourself when you have bedbugs?

  • Wash the bites with soap to lower the chance of infection. Try not to scratch.
  • Use calamine lotion or an anti-itch cream to stop the itching. You can also hold an oatmeal-soaked washcloth on the itchy area for 15 minutes. You can buy an oatmeal powder, such as Aveeno Colloidal Oatmeal, in drugstores.
  • Use an ice pack to stop the swelling.



Bedbugs are flat, wingless insects that feed on blood from animals or people. The bugs are about 0.25 in. (0.6 cm) long and range in color from almost white to brown. They turn rusty red after feeding.

The bugs like to hide in bedding and mattresses. They are found most often in hotels, motels, hostels, and shelters where large numbers of people come and go. Bedbugs usually hide during the day and are active at night when they feed. They can live for 10 months and go weeks without feeding.

Bedbugs are not known to spread disease to people. But their bites can cause itching and allergic reactions in some people.

Bedbugs: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from a bite area.
    • Pus draining from a bite area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Anyone else in your family has itching.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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