Treating the bites

Many people do not react to bedbug bites or only have the odd spot, so treatment may not be needed.

If you do develop bumps that are very itchy, your GP may prescribe some mild steroid cream to apply to your skin, or your pharmacist should be able to recommend antihistamine tablets to relieve the itch. Your skin should clear up within a week. Read more about treatments for itching.

A few people will develop a more severe rash of fluid-filled blisters that can become infected if scratched, requiring antibiotics.

Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) are small blood-sucking insects that can live in cracks and crevices in and around your bed.

Attracted by your body heat and carbon dioxide, they crawl out at night to bite your exposed skin and feed on your blood, just as mosquitoes do.

Not everyone develops a skin reaction to bedbug bites, but some people will develop itchy red bumps one to nine days later, usually on the face, neck, hand or arm. These are often mistaken for mosquito bites, but while mosquito bites tend to be random in pattern, bedbug bites more often occur in straight lines.

The media has recently reported a huge increase in the number of bedbug infestations around the world, particularly in America. It is likely that tourists and an increasing resistance to insecticides are the main reasons for this.

Bedbugs are not dangerous. 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.

If you think you have a bedbug infestation, read the advice below and contact your local council or a professional pest control firm that is a member of the British Pest Control Association or National Pest Technicians Association.

About bedbugs

Adult bedbugs look a bit like lentils and are visible to the naked eye. They are oval-shaped, flat and reddish-brown, and up to 5mm long.

Females lay 200-500 eggs over a two-month period. These white specks stick to surfaces and are very difficult to spot. They hatch to form tiny straw-coloured insects that take about six to eight weeks to grow into adults. As they grow, they shed their skin. This looks like mottled brown shells on your mattress.

Bedbugs need to feed on blood to be able to mature, but they are very resilient. Adults can survive for up to a year without feeding.

They are not attracted to dirt, so a bedbug infestation is not a sign of an unclean home.

How to spot them

  • look for any unexplained skin rash or itchy bump (although not everyone develops this)
  • look out for black spots on your mattress – this could be their dried faeces
  • look for mottled shells that bedbugs may have shed
  • check your sheets for blood spots where you may have rolled over and squashed a bug after it had fed
  • inspect all the crevices and joints of your mattress and furniture using a torch, and see if you can spot any bugs

Where to find them

Because their bodies are flat, bedbugs can squeeze into the smallest crevice or crack, such as a mattress seam or the joints of a bed frame. This can make them very difficult to spot.

They tend to prefer fabric or wood over plastic and metal, and often hide near to where you sleep, for example under the mattress or along the headboard.

However, they are willing to travel several feet if necessary to reach you, so they can also be found away from the bed in other furniture, along the edges of carpets and even behind mirrors or inside smoke alarms. In fact, they can be found in almost any place in the bedroom where they will not be disturbed.

How bedbugs spread

Once introduced into your home, bedbugs can spread easily from room to room. They do not fly or jump, but can crawl quickly.

They can soon spread within a building by getting through holes in walls or pipes, and can potentially invade blocks of flats, hotels or hospitals. The bugs can also be transported in luggage, clothing, furniture and bedding from one building to the next.

This makes is easy for tourists and commuters to unknowingly spread bedbugs.

Getting rid of the bugs

It can be extremely difficult to get rid of a bedbug infestation from your home, so it is wise to contact your local council or a pest control firm. Make sure any pest control company you contact is a member of the British Pest Control Association or National Pest Technicians Association (check the credentials of the company first).

Some councils' pest control services treat homes for free, whether you are a council tenant or not. Other councils' services are free for council tenants only. Each treatment can cost between about £20 and £170, depending on your council's pest control prices, how bad the infestation is, and how many rooms are affected. Pest controllers can usually get rid of bedbugs with two treatments.

A technician will carry out a thorough inspection, which may take a few hours. They will then use specially designed equipment such as a steamer or rapid freeze system to get rid of the bugs.

If you insist on tackling the bugs yourself, the following advice may help:

  • If clothes or bedlinen have become infested, wash them at 60º or put them in a dryer on a hot setting for 30 minutes to kill the bugs.
  • Dismantle your bed and furniture and closely inspect every seam, crevice and joint using a bright torch. Use a vacuum cleaner with a hose to suck up any bugs you can see, but bear in mind you may not be able to find them all. Dispose of the contents of the vacuum cleaner in a sealed bag.
  • To kill any remaining bugs, you can use insecticide spray specially designed for bedbugs. Always read the label and never use this directly on clothing, linen or your mattress. Also, bear in mind that these sprays may be becoming less effective as the bugs build resistance to them. Ordinary insect repellent for mosquitoes and ticks does not seem to be effective.
  • Be prepared to throw away a mattress if it appears to be heavily infested.

Preventing an infestation

It can be difficult to avoid bedbugs as they can be transported so easily.

The best thing you can do is inspect your mattress regularly for telltale signs and take immediate action if necessary. Avoid buying second-hand mattresses and be wary of old beds you might be using in rented accommodation. 

Page last reviewed: 04/12/2012

Next review due: 04/12/2014


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 344 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

sharing said on 15 March 2014

i work in residential care of the elderly doing night shifts for months we have had a problem with bed bugs and the home only targets the one room that they are seen in the residents are getting bitten and staff, im covered in them as we no these are going to spread everywhere considering its a care home and its all ederly with dementia. what can i do about this other than going to managment who dontseem to be doing alot about this

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

CL1991 said on 02 December 2013

I need some help.. About a year ago I came out in a bunch of bites all over my arms, shoulders and torso. I thought this was due to my girlfriend's cats contracting some sort of flea or insect from outside. However, a year down the road I still suffer from a nightly attack from what I think may be bed bugs. After reading this article i have come to realise that it may not be bed bugs, considering no matter where I go, how often I change my clothes or shower, every night I suffer from the same attack. The one thing that makes me think these are not bed bugs is they seem to jump, although I've never actually seen one. I only feel them. I really do not know what to do, at the moment I'm staying at my uncle's house abroad and these parasites seem to have clung to me because I still have these nightly assaults on my body. Not just mine, I've heard complaints from my uncle, auntie and cousins; all saying they've been bitten by some bug at night..

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

calyps said on 10 April 2013

We used to have bedbugs in our apartment and after requesting professionals to clean it up, it didn't work and the bedbug appeared again after 2-3 weeks.

We did some more research and were told by our family members that one should put hot water. We decided to try this by using electric kettle, boil the water and pour it on the edges of the bed and then wipe it immediately. First time we did it, we saw bedbugs running around. We continued this atleast twice a week and then once a week for a small period of time. After pouring the water on the edges, we used to apply insecticide powder for bed bugs.

Doing this for 2-3 months and now we don't have any bed bugs in our house and its been around 6-7 months we have enjoyed sleep again.

Hope it help you all as well.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

pesty said on 27 January 2013

Bedbugs are very hard to get rid off but not to destroy. The best way is to have a professorial pest controller do this for you. It is worth having a o a diy products first but you must do some research on how to carry out a treatment before having a go yourself. find the harbor then treat that area first and spray all surrounding areas. hope this helps

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

woofer said on 02 July 2012

unless you have a stand-alone property (ie. a detached house) or complete and utter co-operation from adjoining neighbours (terraces, flats etc) you will never get rid of bedbugs once you have them. even if you move, you are almost certain to take them with you, unless you dump all yr possessions. they are so flat that they are difficult to kill by squashing

the best you can hope for is to try and control the effects of them by keeping their numbers down. in practice they are like a medical virus such as herpes - there is no cure.

even accepting this, the services that councils provide are, frankly, pitiful and will give no more than a brief peace that is quickly replaced by cynicism. do not pay for council service but give it a try if you can get it free.

rental property is really suffering with a mass transient pool of residents. even if you know what to look for and are confident the flat is clear of bedbugs, what about the neighbours? many leases now state that if a pest infestation occurs then it is the tenants responsibility, even if it is discovered the day they move out.

the government really needs to get its act together on this issue. this is a problem that, as we have seen in the last 5-10 years, will get worse incredibly quickly.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

User684168 said on 10 June 2012

I have had insecticidal treatments done and they don't seem to work, I read that some bed bugs are resistant to insecticides.

I did have a heat treatment carried out in the end which killed the eggs and adults and I was bed bug free after one day.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Rowent said on 26 April 2012

From my understanding in the uk, there is no way to cure the problem of "bed bugs" except to get the professionals out to blast the whole house. According to these guys one website, some people are immune to the bites and don't show the red spots, but they are still getting bitten! So some people have bed bugs and don't even know it, gross!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Insect bites

Most insect bites can be easily treated, but visit your GP as soon as possible if your symptoms are severe