The idea of little blood-sucking insects crawling around your bed at night is probably enough to send shivers down your spine. Unfortunately, bed bug infestations have become an ever-increasing problem for many households these days.
Bed bugs are a type of pest that feeds exclusively on the blood of humans and other mammals. They are normally oval-shaped and reddish-brown in color but become purplish-red when engorged with blood.
Although they need regular feeds at two-week intervals to reproduce, they are capable of surviving for much longer when food is scarce. They are also very prolific, with a single female bed bug capable of laying as many as 500 eggs in her lifetime.
Their resilience, coupled with their small size and ability to hide well from human eyes, make them a real problem. Fortunately, bed bugs don’t carry diseases and their bites are only unpleasant but not dangerous.
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Being tiny and nocturnal, some people might not even notice the infestation until it’s spread quite extensively. If you’re wondering about a possible bug presence in your home, it’s important that you know some of its more common signs before taking direct action.
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Symptoms That Your House Has Bed Bugs
No one wants to think about a bed bug infestation, but once the bugs have made your bedroom their home, it is unlikely that they’ll move out on their own. As a result, it requires decisive action on your part.
You may be wondering what causes a bed bug infestation, but the answer is not all that obvious. For example, it’s actually a misconception to think that the lack of cleanliness has anything to do with it.
Generally, bed bugs spread from place to place via the items that people bring with them (such as luggage, mattresses, briefcases, old furniture, etc.), so a bed bug infestation can commonly begin after you’ve come back from a trip abroad.
These little insects might have been tagging along with you without you knowing. It’s not so easy to know for sure if these unpleasant guests are scuttling about your rooms, but there are definitely some signs you can look for.
1. Physical Evidence of Bed Bugs
One of the easiest ways to know if you’ve got bed bugs in your home or hotel room is to look for the physical evidence the insects leave behind.
Because of how small the bugs are, you’re going to need to look very carefully and thoroughly if you’re going to attempt a reliable inspection.
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Some of the clues can be found directly on your sheets or pajamas, others more commonly in and around bed bug hideouts known as harborages.
Because these bugs live in groups and will look for small crevices to hide in, make sure you inspect mattresses, bed frames, headboards and box springs for their presence. They tend to prefer wood or fabric and are not often found on plastic or metal surfaces.
They will tend to hide out close to their human hosts, so you probably won’t have to look very far from your bed to find their hideout. While finding a few of these physical signs may not mean much, the presence of most or all of them should raise suspicion.
2. Shells or Molted Skins
Bed bugs live for six months to about a year, during which they will reproduce at very high rates.
In order to become adults, they go through a life cycle that entails five different transformations from the moment they hatch out of their shiny, pearly white eggs, to when they become fully adult.
Baby bed bugs, also known as nymphs, start out translucent and much smaller than adults, about the size of a pinhead. As they grow by successive feeds, they become too large for their exoskeletons, also known as shells.
They must shed them in order to form a new, larger exoskeleton to suit their needs. This process is called molting. Of course, bugs aren’t very good at cleaning up after themselves, so these discarded shells can often be found collecting around the bugs’ hideouts in clutters.
They will be of all different sizes – each one from a different moment in the insect’s life cycle. They’re reddish-brown, like the insects themselves, but lighter.
3. Unpleasant Smell
People consistently report that high concentrations of bed bugs leave the room with a very distinct smell. Most reports indicate that it is a musty, sickly-sweet smell, compared often to coriander, almonds, or raspberries that are on the verge of rotting.
It’s unlikely that any smell will be noticeable unless the infestation is well underway. However, not everyone will respond to the scent in a similar way, making it one of the more unreliable signs.
However, if your bedroom starts smelling distinctly different, especially of a moldy, musky smell, then you might want to take it very seriously. It’s not known exactly what creates the smell, although a common guess is that it comes from the droppings.
That’s why it is only going to be noticeable when bugs are in large numbers. It’s possible that the scent is also due to the pheromones produced by the insect during the various stages of its life.
Sometimes, in particularly long and intense infestations, a minty smell has also been reported. It is possible that this is due to the rather high number of crushed bed bugs, which also leave a distinct smell.
Fortunately, although smell can be a tricky sign for humans to go on, there are dogs specifically trained in recognizing the scent of bed bugs and sniffing out their hideouts.
Because of their acute sense of smell, they can detect infestations more quickly and surely than humans trying to visually spot the tiny creatures. As a matter of fact, these trained dogs have a success rate of 97%.
They are often used by exterminators when unsure of where the bugs are, especially in homes where the potential hiding places are many.
4. Fecal Spots
We know that bed bugs have to feed pretty often in order to grow and survive. They feed on their host’s blood and the byproduct of their digestion has to go somewhere.
Well, this is another sign among others that your house might be infested with these little pests – the spotting from their feces. Their digestion characteristics are quite specific if you are looking only at the speed of it: they defecate almost as soon as they have finished feeding.
That is why if you happen to find the fecal spots they’ve left behind, you are probably pretty close to finding their “nest.” One thing that might be misleading though is the color and general look of what you should be keeping an eye out for.
Since human blood is their food, one would expect for their feces and its stains to at least somewhat resemble the color of the food itself. However, this is not the case due to the metabolic processes that turn the blood from its usual color into dark brown or even black.
The spotting will generally look like some dark fluid has been sprinkled around. Hence, instead of looking for blood drops, you should check your mattress and sheets for dark felt tip or fountain pen stains, since that is what spots from bed bug feces resemble the most.
5. Eggs and Bed Bug Feces
We’ve mentioned the fecal spots that are found around the sleeping area as well as on the sheets and mattresses. Unlike those, the very excrement looks a bit different. More specifically, it appears like dark little blobs of hardened material and can be found around bed harborages.
It is usually encountered along with bed bug eggs and egg shells and while the fecal matter is dark in color, the eggs are white.
The unhatched eggs also differ from hatched ones – the egg shells are translucent and dried out, while the eggs themselves are one-millimeter shiny specks of a thick white color.
This shine comes from a sticky substance in which they are covered so as to stick more easily to the surface on which they were laid. Their concentration is the greatest in the sleeping area, but females are known to lay a certain amount some distance away from the “epicenter.”
The first place to look for them would be bed harborages, but the rest of the nooks and crannies should be searched as well.
As mentioned, eggs are more commonly found on wooden and fabric-covered surfaces than on metal and plastic ones, so you might want to take this into consideration when choosing your bed frames.
6. Blood Stains
An additional sign of a bed bug infestation that might appear together with their feces and its stains are blood spots on your sheets, pillowcases and pajamas.
These are the results of your tossing and turning during the night and here’s how they occur: when the bugs leach on to your skin to feed and you unexpectedly turn around, they get trapped and crushed under your weight.
As a result, smearing the blood they have taken in and staining your sheets. Hence – the blood spots. However, this hint alone cannot be taken as a certain sign you are dealing with a bed bug infestation, since this type of stain can be caused by a number of things besides bed bugs.
The same goes for average insect bites you might notice on your skin. The only scenario in which you can assign the blood spots on your sheets to a bed bug invasion is if it also includes bed bug fecal stains, their feces itself, or any other clue mentioned previously.
7. Bed Bugs on Other Furniture
Although the main place of their nesting and gathering is the sleeping area itself, bed bugs can easily spread around the room. In fact, they are likely to inhabit whatever convenient cracks in wooden surfaces or creases in fabrics.
That is why if you have found some conclusive signs of bed bugs’ presence in your home, it would be wise to do a thorough search for any potential place in which they might be hiding.
After you’ve checked your bed and the area around it, the next on your examination list should be every piece of furniture.
When it comes to chairs, armchairs and other pieces of fabric-covered furniture, take a long and hard look at the upholstery seams and other similar fabric wrinkles, especially on the undersides.
This is because these are their favorite spots. On top of that, you should double-check these areas since the eggs and nymphs can easily be mistaken for bits and crumbles of other material or just mere dust.
Another type of furniture to inspect would be anything made of wood – shelves, bookcases, dressers. These bugs love to hide and nestle in the joints of wood pieces as well as any other indentation that can be found on wooden surfaces.
Make sure you check the furniture from all sides and angles and for each of the bed bug signs – eggs, nymphs, feces, fecal spots, etc. Now, it has been mentioned that eggs are more likely to be found on wood and fabric surfaces, as opposed to metal and plastic.
However, bed bugs – especially nymphs and adults – won’t shy away from hiding even on those surfaces if they find it convenient for some reason.
They are even known to have been found inside screw heads on chairs, so be thorough in your search if you want to get rid of these pests.
8. Signs of Bed Bugs In Other Places
If the infestation isn’t discovered during the early stages, it will spread around your place. Because of that, you might find traces of bed bug presence in the most unexpected and peculiar parts of your home.
A grown bed bug is between five and seven millimeters long and really flat, so they can hide in any of the tiny places that you might not even dream to find them in.
Whether you just have suspicions that the infestation has spread around your home, or you have hard evidence of it, it would be a good idea to search all of the places inaccessible to you but great for them to dwell.
Anything from picture frames, carpet edges and door hinges, to electrical outlets, behind windows or door moldings and baseboards can be their target area – once the areas surrounding your bed have become too crowded.
9. Symptoms of Bed Bug Bites
Our skin’s reaction to bed bug bites won’t differ much from any other average insect bite, such as that of a mosquito or a harmless species of spider. These bites usually appear on parts of the body that are exposed during sleep – face, neck, hands and legs.
They commonly have a visible bite spot with a minor inflammation around it, or multiple bumps in a zigzag or a circular pattern. Fortunately, they heal within a week or so. At least, this is how people who aren’t sensitive to bed bug bites usually react to them.
However, there are those who are considered hypersensitive to these insects’ bites and their skin develops different reactions. Their encounter with a bed bug may result in anything from mere itchiness or a burning sensation, to various bumps and swellings.
Their skin might be spotted with a number of bumps with a clear center and a somewhat swollen surrounding area, bumps with dark centers, or more severe inflammations of the larger areas of skin.
The most severe cases could even include symptoms commonly related to the flu, nausea, fever, blisters, swollen tongue, difficulties in breathing, or irregular heartbeats. However, these are extremes and are truly rare.
In any of these cases, it is of utmost importance to react and this reaction is twofold. Firstly, you should wash the bites with soap and water to prevent an infection and, if necessary, use some antihistamines or hydrocortisone.
Secondly, contain the infestation and get rid of these insects completely. It is a matter of your health, since multiple bites over a long period can lead to more severe reactions, increased risk of infections and even sleep deprivation.
The detailed vacuuming of your home and furniture might help in the prevention of a bed bug infestation. However, there are no rules and the important thing is to not panic or obsess over them.
In other words, a few insect bites or a couple of blood drops on your sheets shouldn’t be enough for you to start suspecting a bed bug invasion.
If you find more convincing evidence of infestation, then you should do a thorough search of your whole home, since these insects are extremely skillful at hiding.
If you’ve come across any of the unmistakable evidence of their presence in your home, alongside the mentioned blood stains on your sheets and bites on your skin, that’s when you should react.
Of course, the first step would be to take care of the bites so as to prevent an infection, while the second step is to definitely get rid of these parasites. The best and safest way to do that is to seek a professional’s help.
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