Bed Bug Symptoms

By Mark | Bed Bugs Symptoms

One of the worst things that can arise is you waking up and finding bites on your body. Suddenly all your fears of bed bugs return as you rack your brain for what bed bug symptoms are! Do you have bed bugs or not? How can you tell?

Well, let me help in this article – I’m going to list and describe in detail a bunch of the telltale signs that you are dealing with bed bugs so that you can accurately determine whether you need to start a treatment plan to kill them or go back to sleep. This can be a stressful situation, so try to stay calm and read the list of bed bug signs objectively. I’ve known many people to think they have bed bugs based on 1 or 2 bites and to then go overboard and start buying sprays and throwing their stuff away.

While you definitely want to start getting rid of bed bugs as soon as you have them, you also need to accurately determine whether you have bed bugs or not! So, let’s begin.

First off, there are various bed bug symptoms. Some of them are obvious, like bites or seeing bed bugs in your home. Others are less obviously, such as the odor and stains that bed bugs can leave. Below are some of these common symptoms of bed bugs below to help you identify whether you have bed bugs or not.

Common Bed Bug Symptoms (Beyond Just The Bites)

List of Common Bed Bug Symptoms

  • Bites
    This is of course the most common symptom, and most people are only alerted to their bed bugs problem when they start reacting to the bed bug bites and wondering what brought them on.

    If you’re reading this page wondering if you have bed bugs, then I’m betting you’ve spotted some bites…

    However, just seeing bites is not a very reliable indicator of bed bugs (see below for ways bed bug bites are different to other insect bites).

    Conversely, not seeing bites is also not a very reliable indicator that you don’t have bed bugs! Many people often wonder why they’re bitten to death by these critters while their partner or friend remains bite-free. Do they have some magical repellent properties? No…the fact is that while many people who are bitten by bed bugs see evidence of those bites, some lucky people are not affected by the bites and therefore don’t see any bites.

    While you might think those people who don’t react to bed bug bites are seriously lucky, the fact is that for them, a bed bug infestation is much harder to catch. Often, they’ll have had bed bugs multiplying in their home and throughout their mattress and bed for weeks before they even notice (through one of the other bed bugs symptoms listed here). When they do notice finally, usually they’ll have to do a ton more work and spend a lot more money (e.g., in hiring a professional exterminator) to get rid of the infestation.

    What do bed bug bites look like?

    If you do see bed bug bites on your skin, you’ll find that they typically manifest themselves as small bumps (sometimes flat and sometimes raised). Many people experience redness, swelling and itchiness around the affected areas.

    Where can you find the bed bug bites?

    Common areas to find these bites are on your face, neck, arms and hands, although bites on other body parts are also normal.

    How similar are bed bug bites to other insect bites?

    Unfortunately, bed bug bites are similar to many other insect bites (or even to skin allergies!) so it’s often difficult to distinguish between them. However, there are 2 signs that may help you identify whether you have bed bug bites rather than bites from another insect (although these signs are definitely not fail-proof!). (In fact, even doctors and those who deal with bed bugs for a living have trouble distinguishing bed bug bites by sight, so please do not rely on just this one symptom along to reach a diagnosis.)

    2 ways to distinguish bed bug bites from other insect bites:

    (1) Bed bugs usually appear as three bites in a fairly straight line (this is often known as the breakfast, lunch, and dinner bites).
    (2) Two puncture marks on the skin (one puncture to inject the numbing agent and one puncture to suck up your blood).

    The photo below shows you how bed bug bites can look.

    This is what bed bug bites look like
    photo credit: Richard Thomas

    To find out more about bed bug bites, read our Bed Bug Bites page, and if you’re interested in how to treat the bites, read the Bed Bug Bites Treatment page.

  • Seeing Bed Bugs
    Of course, if you see bed bugs (and you can determine that the insect you saw is actually a bed bug), then that’s a pretty good sign that you have bed bugs.

    Of course, seeing just 1 bed bug by itself could mean that you brought home one lone insect by accident (through bumping into a traveler, your bags or clothes touching something or someone that was infected). And if it was a male bed bug, then you won’t have anything to worry about, although since it’s pretty much impossible to know, I would suggest doing a treatment plan just in case.

    However, if you do see bed bugs in your home, then you probably have a large infestation as it’s rare to be able to spot them crawling around.

    Can you catch bed bugs to determine whether you have them?

    Yes, you can definitely set traps to catch bed bugs (especially near your bed or where you sleep). There are special bed bug monitors that you can purchase to help catch bed bugs. These monitors mimic human breathing to draw bed bugs to them. Other methods of catching bed bugs are also available, and these include spreading Vaseline or attaching double-sided tape to the bottom of your furniture. I’ve also seen some plastic devices that can be attached to your bed that can help catch them.

    Clearly, if you catch bed bugs, then it’s a very good sign that you have an infestation that you need to deal with immediately.

  • Stains
    This is a really good way of determining whether you have bed bugs quickly (especially if you have a large infestation). Bed bugs leave excrement and exoskeletons, which you can find in the creases of your bed sheets or mattresses/box springs. You can usually see their excrement as reddish or brownish stains on your mattress or bedroom furniture. But note that these stains may be difficult to spot if you don’t have a large infestation. The exoskeletons that they shed may be even harder to spot as they’re very small and will usually disintegrate if you crush it.

    Looking for stains on your sheets and mattresses is something you should do whenever you go into a new hotel room. This check takes just 1 minute and can save you a ton of money and trouble. In particular, check the corners of the mattress – if you see any sorts of reddish or brownish stains, let the management know immediately.

  • Sweet Odor
    One of the bed bug symptoms most people don’t know about is the sweet odor that bed bugs leave.

    Bed bugs emit a sweet musty smell that you might be able to detect in your room if you have bed bugs. However, you’re unlikely to notice the smell unless you have a large infestation. This is another easy sign to look for when you first enter a new hotel room.

Unfortunately, although there are many possible symptoms of having a bed bug infestation, no particular symptom will tell you if you definitely have bed bugs except for actually seeing the bed bugs. As I cautioned above, many people find a few bites in the morning and suddenly become convinced they have bed bugs. They then start washing all their clothes, throwing away their bed sheets, buying pointless bed bug sprays, and generally freaking out for no reason. Often they end up finding that it was an allergy or else mosquito bites.

Another common story I hear over and over again is when people are convinced they have bed bugs (because they find a few bites during the night), then they wash their clothes and vacuumed their place, and no more bites. So, they go around telling everyone that they had bed bugs but got rid of them through just doing laundry and vacuuming. This is the sort of myth that gets spread that doesn’t help those people who actually suffer from bed bugs.

So, I strongly encourage you to make sure that you have bed bugs before you undertake a thorough treatment regime, because you can’t tell if the treatment was successful unless you can accurately determine whether or not you have bed bugs.

I’ve put up a whole post on bed bugs signs, but if you really want to know whether you have bed bugs or not, consider hiring a sniffer dog or getting a device such as the Climbup Detector to catch a bed bug.

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(2) comments

lorraine augustine

I think I have bed bugs because I am getting bit starting from around 4 or 5pm to morning. I have found so far three pair of pants eaten up and one top. Do bed bugs eat clothes or do I have a moth problem too along with it. I have a man from orkin coming in two days to check. My doc says you can’t give them to others but that can’t be true because how else do we get them if it isnt from one person to the other. What do you say about that. Going buggy! help


    Hi and thanks for the questions.

    In terms of your clothes, bed bugs do not nibble clothes, so that’s due to something else (possibly moths). Your doctor is also wrong that bed bugs cannot be transmitted. There are a number of ways that they can travel (on your clothes, in any luggage or bag that you carry, etc.). Also, if you have bed bugs, and someone comes over to your home, they could easily pick one up and take it back home with them.

    All of that said, wait to see what the orkin man says, as there are certainly other insects that could be causing you to get bitten. Diagnosing bed bugs is second only to getting rid of them in terms of toughness.

    Good Luck!

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