Updated: February 3, 2021

Finding out you have bed bugs can be a nightmare.

Whether you’re in the midst of a severe infestation, or you just found a couple of bites…

It’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of bed bugs.

Identifying a bed bug bite can be challenging, as these creatures are often confused with similar, more common insects.

While they are a public health concern:

(with many states enacting new bed bug legislation)

Bed bugs aren’t known to transmit disease.

The symptoms are usually mild. They can include:

  • Irritation
  • Sores
  • Itchiness
  • Unpleasant cosmetic effect

Though physical symptoms are typically short lived (1 to 2 weeks), this is not always the case.

The Bed Bug Rash

In some situations, bed bug bites can cause long term health problems, and in others…

Victims may experience NO physical reaction from the bites.

Today we’ll explore a common symptom of bed bug bites…The bed bug rash.

What Does a Bed Bug Rash Look Like?

Typically, bed bug bites itch individually, but if you experience multiple bites you can produce a rash.

Those with sensitive skin will likely experience some sort of adverse reaction to the bites that could break out into a larger rash.

Unlike mosquito bites, Bed bug bites occur in patterns.

Such as:

  • Zig Zag
  • Linear
  • Cluster

When these bites become a rash, they can be more difficult to identify, because it’s natural to think this is from a skin allergy.

If you see a rash that consists of numerous bumps on the skin, surrounded by severe redness, it could be from bed bugs.

It’s CRITICAL you diagnose the rash properly because different skin reactions require different treatments.

Do You Suspect Bed Bugs?

You can either seek the help of a health professional, or look for evidence of a bed bug infestation.

Common bed bug signs include:

  • Black/brown spots on the bedding or mattress
  • Blood stains around the bed
  • A musty scent coming from the bedroom
  • Molted skin, eggs, or nymphs (baby bed bugs)
  • You notice active bugs around the bedroom at night.

If you do notice evidence of an infestation you should take action immediately.

If you’re a renter:

Report the infestation to your landlord within 24 hours of discovery.

If he/she doesn’t respond within 2 days consider contacting your health department or potentially threaten legal action.

If you’re a homeowner:

If you believe the infestation is severe, you should get in touch with a pest control professional.

If you believe the infestation is contained and may only be a few bugs…

you can try Diatomaceous Earth or other DIY methods.

If you’re in a Hotel/Motel or Airbnb:

Report the infestation to management and try and get a refund. If your injuries are severe you can potentially sue the hotel for damages.

Bed Bug Rash Pictures

Below is an example of a mild bed bug rash that occured on a woman’s arm and neck.

You can see some light swelling across numerous bites. 

Below is an example of a more severe skin reaction due to bed bugs. 

You can see some intense swelling, where the individual bites almost form 1 major raised area across the skin. 

Bed Bug Rash Treatment

There are a few treatment options for bed bug rashes that could help relieve symptoms in the short term. Though no treatment will heal the rash immediately.

The first recommended treatment is simple.

Clean the affected area using soap and water.

If you’re experiencing severe symptoms, you should go to the hospital.

These include:

  • Severe swelling
  • Inflammation
  • Intense burning sensation
  • Trouble breathing

A dramatic immune response could be a sign of an allergic reaction.

If that’s the case…

You may need an antihistamine or epinephrine medication administered.

For typical rash symptoms, you can use the following medications.

1. Hydrocortisone

This medication is a steroid cream that helps reduce inflammation on the skin.

Inflammation occurs from the bed bug bites causing irritation. This causes blood vessels to widen and the irritated skin to become red, itchy, and swollen.

Hydrocortisone acts inside the skin cells to stop the irritation and relieve itching.

2. Calamine Lotion

This cream is an over the counter medication that helps to dry out oozing skin irritations.

This lotion will typically leave a thin film as it dries, and it should be applied up to 3 to 4 times per day as symptoms persist.

This lotion is uniquely pink due to the zinc oxide and 0.5% iron (ferric) oxide that give its identifying pink color.

3. Benadryl

An oral antihistamine, Benadryl is extremely effective at relieving the itching sensation. Like other antihistamines, a known symptom of this medicine is drowsiness, so it should be taken with caution.

For this reason – This medication is best taken before bed. If required, you can take it every 4 to 6 hours or as directed by a doctor.

4. Antibiotics (Oral or by Ointment)

If a bacterial infection occurs on the skin, a health-care provider may prescribe an oral antibiotic. This helps treat, or prevent an infection from an open wound caused by the rash.

Bed bug bites can cause blistering or open wounds if excessive scratching occurs.

It’s very important that you refrain from scratching, to protect from infection as well as scarring that can occur as a result.  

How Long Does a Bed Bug Rash Last?

Typically, the rash will last around 1 to 2 weeks. You will usually notice the bed bug bites within a day of being bitten, and then depending on your skin, a rash can occur shortly after.

The appearance of the rash will be different for everyone, and may peak for a few days…

After that, the rash will begin to fade slowly.

If you’re stuck with a severe bed bug problem and are continuously being bitten, the rash will persist longer.

Bites that occur on a nightly basis may exacerbate an existing rash and cause more extreme irritation.

For these people, professional medical attention will be necessary to get rid of a rash entirely.

Can Bed Bugs Cause a Skin Rash?

The short answer is Yes.

Bed bugs can cause rashes on the skin. After a bite, the rash can take 2 to 3 hours or up to 2 weeks to appear.

(Or never show at all)

Your pets are also at risk of getting rashes from bed bugs. A cat or dog may chew and scratch at the rash obsessively, which can lead to bald patches in the fur and changes in their normal behaviors.

Click here for more information about how bed bugs can infest your pets.

To reduce pain and swelling, and also shorten the recovery time…

You should resort to the medication and treatment methods listed above.

If you’re experiencing a reoccurring infestation, you should take serious action to prevent reoccurrence of skin rashes or other common bed bug symptoms.

How Common are Bed Bug Bites?

The National Pest Management Association wrote that in the 20th century, only 25% of pest control professionals had encountered bed bugs.

This is due to the fact that insecticides like DDT, which came out in the 1950s, had almost fully eradicated these creatures from the United States.

Since then the EPA has regulated which pesticides can be used in homes, due to the harmful effects to humans of using DDT in bedrooms.

This is one of the reasons bed bugs have made a comeback.

Since the year 2000, 95% of pest control professionals have dealt with bed bugs.

With an average of 76% saying that bed bugs are some of the hardest pests to treat.

Companies are now receiving multiple calls weekly about bed bugs, with reported cases in every state in America.

Bed Bug Bites vs. Rash

Bites from bed bugs will look different than your generic skin rash.

A rash from bed bugs will consist of itchy bumps with a dark center and a lighter swollen surrounding area.

If you were bitten, more often than not, you will see itchy red bumps on your skin, but you may not always get a rash.

To help diagnose bed bugs from your generic rash you should do your research.

Click here for the complete guide on what bed bug bites look like.

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Date Published: 2020-06-29

Written By Robert Brown

I'm a seasoned pest control veteran. I focus my time on writing educational content about the industry and helping people learn about indoor insects. When I'm not thinking about bed bugs I am spending time with my daughters or walking the dog.

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