What are bed bugs?

Cimex lectularius, the common bed bug is a small blood-sucking insect that can live in cracks and crevices in and around your bed.

Bed bugs are brown, flat, oval-shaped insects that crawl out at night to bite your exposed skin and feed on your blood, just as mosquitoes do and they are not to be confused with dust mites.

Although bed bugs can be seen by the naked eye they don’t grow much larger than 0.2 inches (0.5 centimetres). They do not transmit any human diseases and most people do not develop any serious skin reaction. However, their presence can be upsetting and stressful, and you should take action straight away.

Read more interesting facts about bed bugs here.

Where do you find bed bugs?

Bed bugs are usually found in places where there is a high footfall, such as in hotels, hostels, shelters and apartment blocks and they are also found in the home. The number of bed bugs is increasing worldwide, which may be as a result of a rise in international travel.

They tend to prefer fabric and wood over plastic or metal and are often found hiding near to where you sleep. They can be found near the piping, seams and tags of the mattress and box spring, as well as in any cracks or crevices on the bed frame and headboard.

In fact, bed bugs can be found in a variety of places where they cannot be disturbed.

Key places to check for bed bugs are:

  • In-between cushions, in the folds of curtains and in the seams of chairs and mattresses
  • In drawer joints
  • In-wall sockets and electrical appliances
  • Under wall hangings
  • At the junction where the wall and ceiling meet

Take a look at our detailed guide on how to check for bed bugs.

Signs that you have bed bugs

Symptoms of bed bug bites can vary from one individual to another, as not everyone will have a reaction. Bed bugs inject a numbing agent, preventing you from waking up so that you may not realise you have been bitten until the next day.

There are several tell-tale signs that you have bed bugs, including an unexplained skin rash, itchy bumps and red blood spots on your bedding.

How do you check for bed bugs?

Do you have a suspicion that you have bed bugs? Follow our step by step guide for how to check for bed bugs.

Where do they come from?

Bed bugs are not a result of bad sanitation – even the cleanest of places can fall victim to bed bugs. They can be transported in luggage, clothing, furniture and bedding, making it is easy for tourists and commuters to unknowingly spread bed bugs.

Although they cannot fly or jump, they can crawl quickly. Once bed bugs are introduced into a home, they can spread rapidly from room to room by getting through holes in wall or pipes.

How do you prevent bed bugs?

Due to how easily bed bugs can be transported, it can be difficult to avoid them.

To help keep on top of bed bug infestation, inspect your mattress regularly for tell-tale signs and take immediate action if necessary.

Always check over used furniture for bed bugs before bringing it into your home. It’s also important to be wary of buying second-hand mattresses and old beds that may be carrying bed bugs.

It’s recommended to seal any holes or cracks in your home where bed bugs could get in.

However, if clothing or bedding has been exposed to bed bugs, these items should be tightly sealed in a plastic bag until they can be cleaned properly.

Pillow and mattress protectors featuring a zipper system completely block bedbugs from escaping and entering your bed and provide protection against bed bug bites.

Serious and life-threatening reactions to bedbug bites

Although less common, it is possible to develop a serious or even life-threatening reaction to bedbug bites. These reactions include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Swollen tongue
  • Large blisters
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Infection from scratching
  • Anaemia (rare, but can develop when a person gets numerous bedbug bites)

How do you treat bed bug bites?

You should seek advice and treatment from a dermatologist if you have any of the following:

  • Many bites
  • Blisters
  • Skin infection (bites feel tender or ooze discharge such as puss)
  • An allergic skin reaction (skin red and swollen)

Allergic reaction: For a severe allergic reaction you may require an injection of an antihistamine, corticosteroid, or epinephrine (adrenaline).

Infection: An infection may require an antibiotic. For a mild infection, your dermatologist may recommend an antiseptic medication that you can buy without a prescription, as well as an antiseptic to prevent a skin infection.

Itch: For an itch, a prescription antihistamine pill or liquid can help. Applying corticosteroid to the bites will also reduce irritation.

How do you kill bed bugs?

If you have bed bugs it’s best to get the advice of a professional who can use specialised chemical and heat treatments to kill the bugs. However, it’s also beneficial to combine this with natural treatments you can do yourself. First wash all clothes, linens and bedding at a high temperature, or tumble dry items that cannot be washed. Vacuum mattresses and surrounding areas and use specially designed bedding encasements to prevent re-infestation and further bed bug bites.

Read more about how to kill bed bugs here.

Will bed bugs come back?

If you have used a pest control professional, the bed bugs should have gone, but it is always good to stay watchful following a bed bug infestation.

Make sure you vacuum daily in the first few weeks and throw out the vacuum bag immediately after cleaning – even if you don’t see signs, the eggs could still be around.

Seal your mattress and pillows using bedding encasements that have a bed bug proof zip. These zips are designed to close so tight that the smallest of bed bugs cannot pass through them, resulting in the bed bugs eventually dying.  It is recommended that you keep the plastic on the mattress and pillows for at least a year.

Tips for travelling

Follow these tips to reduce your risk of bringing bed bugs back to your home after you travel:

  • Always inspect the beds and furniture in the place that you’ll be staying before sleeping or opening your luggage there
  • Alert staff: if you do find any signs of bed bugs, arrange for another place to stay or if possible move to a new hotel
  • Before you leave inspect your clothing and luggage and if there are signs of bed bugs you should not take any of your belongings into your home until it’s thoroughly cleaned

Wash the clothes you travelled with right away when getting home and separately from any other laundry

For more information and advice about bed bugs and other sleep issues, visit the SlumberSlumber sleep clinic.

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