Featured image: ucanr.edu
There are more bed bugs around than you might think and the main reason for their prevalence is travel.
How do people get bed bug bites?
Bed bugs are not that easy to spot with the naked eye which is why it is easy to pick them up when you are staying in hotels or hostels. They lurk in clothing and luggage hence the reason why they are so widespread, not the sort of souvenir you want to bring back with you from a foreign holiday.
Picture of a bed bug bite – image source: Michigan.gov
Bed bugs can easily hide in the headboard or mattress on the bed because they have flat, wingless bodies. They also like upholstered furniture so their name is a bit of a misnomer. You might wonder how they don’t just get crushed by someone on top of the mattress but they have a clever anatomical design which has allowed them to become very persistent and hard to destroy. Clever things, when they bite too; they inject a tiny bit of anesthetic first and only really bite at night to avoid detection.
Bed bug bites
Bed bugs will bite anywhere on the human body but they tend to target exposed areas while the occupant of the bed is asleep so typically the neck, face, hands, shoulders, arms, and legs.
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Because of the way the bugs bite, most people do not feel the initial bite and will not wake up. Symptoms occur pretty quickly but can develop over the course of a few days and become a real irritation, literally. The type of standard reaction will include:-
- A raised itchy bump with a clear center
- A red itchy bump with a dark center and a swollen area surrounding it which is lighter in color
- A line of small red bumps or a zigzag pattern
- Small red lumps surrounded by hives or blisters
Evidence of bed bug activity can also include small blood spots that have dried which can be seen on the skin and also on the bedsheets.
As with any biting insect, some people can develop a severe and allergic reaction which will require prompt medical intervention. Some typical symptoms for this might include:-
- Fever or chills
- A feeling of nausea or sickness
- Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
- Swollen tongue
- Irregular heartbeat
Treat the discomfort of bed bug bites
First of all, wash the bites with soap and water. The bites can be itchy and scratching them increases the chance of a skin infection. Managing the itchiness whilst the bites heal is very important and here are some tried and trusted techniques:-
- Sit in a cool bath before bed with either a cup of finely ground oatmeal or two cups of Epsom Salts both of which ease the discomfort of inflamed and itchy skin
- Dry the affected areas by dabbing or patting the skin with a towel, don’t rub them
- Apply cooling calamine lotion or an Aloe Vera Gel which can calm the skin and help keep it cool whilst you sleep.
- During the day, ice packs or cold compresses can offer relief to hot and itchy areas. Apply ten minutes on and ten minutes off and remember never to apply ice packs directly to the skin but wrap in a hand towel or piece of cloth
- If possible, wear loose, cool and breathable fabrics over the affected areas – tight clothing and manmade materials will heat up the skin and cause friction, sweating and encourage scratching
If the itching is really unbearable then over the counter antihistamines can help although they do take a day or two to work. These can be either topical applied in the form of a cream or oral tablets.
Desert Essence tea tree oil relief spray with calming chamomile, rosemary oil & balm mint extract to relieve skin irritation
Prevention is always better than cure
It isn’t always possible to know that bed bugs are sharing your accommodation until you find the telltale bites.
But here are some tips to help keep bed bugs at bay.
- If you buy secondhand furniture then leave it outside the home and treat it before you bring it indoors
- If you are staying away from home, always inspect the bed very carefully in your accommodation for evidence of infestation
- Make your own essential oil spray and take it with you to spray fabrics, mattresses and upholstered furniture even if there is nothing visible to the naked eye
- Check your suitcase carefully before you depart and especially before you pack to come home. Don’t leave empty suitcases under the bed but store them on racks or on the top of wardrobes
- Take your own mattress protector and pillow protectors with you when you travel – remember to store separately away from other clothes when you pack to come home
- Stay covered up as much as possible whilst you sleep
This mattress cover from Utopia Bedding is a great choice to protect yourself from nasty bed bug bites. Also forming an effective barrier against fluids, liquids, and dust mites, this particular cover is constructed of a robust stretchable knitted polyester fabric which ensures that it is long-lasting.
What should you do if you wake up with bed bug bites?
Strip the bed and wash the linen and your night attire. Bed bugs are quite resistant to the washing process so put the linen in the tumble dryer first for 20 minutes which should kill them and then put all the linen through a hot, soapy wash before returning the laundry back to the dryer. Heat kills the bugs at all stages in their lifecycle.
Spray your fabrics weekly with an essential oil blend. There are also chemical products that have a more instantaneous effect but a lot of people don’t want to use these on areas where they sleep. Take the mattress off the bed and vacuum it thoroughly on both sides before spraying it and leaving to dry. Don’t forget the pillows which should be subjected to the same treatment and also any upholstered furniture in the bedroom. If you can steam these items on high heat using a handheld household steamer then this is even better. Essential oils are effective but you do have to be persistent. They should not be used near children or infants.