Bed bugs are small insects that feed on your blood, often causing itchy bites. They tend to live around your bed and travel on clothing, furniture, bedding and luggage. While they do not transmit diseases, they are upsetting and can be hard to get rid of.
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are oval-shaped and flat. They can grow up to 5mm long, changing colour from cream to brown as they mature. While they need to feed on blood to grow, they are resilient and can live for up to a year without a feed.
Bed bugs tend to live in cracks and crevices in and around your bed, especially in mattress seams. They prefer to feed on humans but will also feed on other warm blooded animals. They mainly feed at night.
Signs and symptoms
Signs of a bed bug infestation include:
- regularly waking with bites
- bed bugs on your mattress, bed frame and other furniture
- brown spotting (bed bug faeces) or blood spots on your mattress
- a musty, sweet smell with large infestations.
Some people do not react to bed bug bites, but many develop red, itchy spots. These are often found on your legs, arms and shoulders. Some bites can become infected. Some people don’t react, while others may not react until up to 9 days after they’re bitten.
Bed bug bites tend to clear up on their own, or with simple first aid measures. Read about treating insect bites.
See your doctor if you are concerned about your bites. Your doctor may recommend steroid creams or antihistamines if your bites are very itchy or severe. If a bite has become infected, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
How to get rid of bed bugs
Non-chemical approaches include steaming, vacuuming, and washing clothing in hot water and using a hot clothes dryer.
But it can be hard to get rid of bed bugs. If those approaches don’t work, consult a pest controller for advice.
You can help prevent infestations by:
- avoiding using second-hand mattresses
- regularly checking your bed for bed bugs
- keeping your bedroom tidy to minimise hiding spots.
Last reviewed: April 2017