How to Treat Bed Bug Bites

Fortunately, bed bug bites don’t usually present a serious threat, but the process to relieve your bites and marks can be a strenuous one. The thing is, it might take a while to realize that you have bed bugs. That’s because bed bugs are tiny, and their bites can mimic other insect bites or skin irritations. 

Here’s everything you should know about bed bug bites and how to get rid of the pesky critters once and for all.

A lot of times people cannot distinguish bed bug bites from other insect bites. Here are some things to look for:

  1. Itchy skin
  2. Red spots (often the center is darker)
  3. Usually in a pattern or cluster
  4. Located on the face, neck, arms and hands

The tough part about it is that commonly people can have a delayed reaction up to 2-3 weeks or no reaction at all. While on the other side of the spectrum for some people it can trigger a severe allergic reaction.

At Home Treatments

The best way to treat bed bug bites is to wash them gently with soap and water, then apply an anti-itch cream or lotion (look for hydrocortisone 1%) to your skin while avoiding use on your face. Do this daily or twice daily if itching is annoying. If this is the case, your healthcare provider may prescribe a stronger steroid cream or recommend that you take an over-the-counter or prescription antihistamine medication. Some treatments that may be helpful:

  1. Calamine lotion
  2. Hydrocortisone 1%
  3. Antihistamines
  4. Colloidal oatmeal
  5. Lanolin (but ONLY if you’re not allergic)
  6. Sarna, a cream that contains camphor and menthol in its original formula

These products work best when applied to damp skin. Usually, the bites will go away after a week or two. It’s important to avoid scratching bed bug bites as much as possible. Scratching the bites can lead to skin tears and infections.

You can treat bed bug bites by first washing the bite site with soapy water to remove any dirt or debris. Then, you can try these at-home remedies:

  • Anti-itch cream. These over-the-counter drugs include steroid ointments, like Cortisone, or antihistamine creams, like Benadryl. Both reduce itching and swelling and can provide relief from bed bug bites when applied topically. 
  • Oral antihistamine. An over-the-counter oral antihistamine tablet, like Benadryl, counteracts your body’s production of histamine, which is what causes bites to itch. However, these oral antihistamines can cause drowsiness — it’s best to take Benadryl right before bed to relieve itchiness and help you sleep. 
  • Cold compress. A cold compress, can give temporary itch relief. Apply a cold compress or ice pack wrapped in cloth for not longer than 20 minutes, and wait at least an hour before reapplying. 

The itching from bed bug bites can last for up to two weeks. That’s often prolonged if the infestation hasn’t been addressed and the person continues to get new bites. If you’re dealing with severe itchiness despite using the remedies above, you can reach out to your doctor for a more powerful prescription anti-itch cream. 


Most bed bug bites require no medical treatment. Talk to your doctor if you experience an allergic reaction to the bites or if you develop swollen red skin with hives, they are oozing puss or a skin infection after scratching the bites.

In some cases, medically prescribed oral steroids might be the best way for some people who have severe itching caused by bed bug bites. The oral steroids can reduce inflammation and itchiness in people who don’t get relief from topical creams. They can also help prevent further health complications from the overwhelming itchiness. 

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