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Bed bugs: Overview

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are tiny insects that feed on human blood. They hide in dark places close to where humans sleep and usually crawl out to feed while people are fast asleep.

If you have bed bugs in your home, it's unlikely that you'll see one unless you look for them. Bed bugs hide in the crevices of mattresses, box springs, headboards, couches, and other places. They only come out to feed.

While a bed bug is feeding on you, you're unlikely to notice. Most people are asleep when they get bit. Also, before a bed bug draws your blood, it injects you with a substance that prevents you from feeling the bite. When you wake up, you may notice itchy welts.

Bed bug bites

Most people who are bitten by bed bugs have welts that look like this.

Red welts shown here are bed bug bites

To find bed bugs, you usually have to look carefully. An adult that is full of blood can be the size of an apple seed. Hungry bed bugs and younger ones are about the size of a poppy seed.

If you unsure of what’s biting you, a board-certified dermatologist can often look at the bites and tell you whether bed bugs are the cause.

Bed bugs can be hard to find

They are often about size of a poppy seed.

Bed bugs are often the size of a poppy seed

As for getting rid of bed bugs, it often requires professional help. Pesticides are usually necessary to kill bed bugs and their eggs, but using these on or near your bed can be hazardous to your health. This is why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using a professional pest control company that has experience treating bed bugs.

To complicate matters, many pesticides and foggers cannot kill bed bugs because bed bugs have developed a resistance to the active ingredients in these products. It takes a bit of knowledge to know what will work.

If this news makes you want to leave your home for a few weeks, well, that won’t get rid of bed bugs either. Bed bugs can survive one year or longer without eating.

Another good reason to get professional help is to make sure you actually have bed bugs. Many insect bites cause itchy welts.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Joint statement on bed bug control in the United States from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).” Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010.

Steen CJ, Carbonaro PA, Schwartz RA. “Arthropods in dermatology.”  J Am Acad Dermatol 2004; 50:819-42.