How to know if you have bed bugs: Five signs of bed bugs

In the past 20 years, there has been a resurgence of bed bugs infestations affecting large cities such as New York and London. People are travelling more than ever, and because of high living costs, flat sharing with high turnarounds have become the norm. Knowing the most common signs of bed bugs will allow you to take early action and have a more conclusive bed bug treatment.

How do you get bed bugs?

Bed bugs are one of the easiest pests to pick up but one of the hardest to get rid of. They can “hitchhike” on your clothing from anywhere you’re likely to spend a significant amount of time, such as cinemas, restaurants, hotel rooms and even public transport. Their ability to take a lift is what makes them difficult to eradicate—they can hold on to clothing and other materials on your person, or on your bags to escape at a later stage within your home.

what do bed bug look like

Bed bugs can cause skin irritation and severe reactions in the form of rashes for those who are allergic. Therefore, it’s essential that you can recognise the typical signs of bed bug infestations, know what do bed bugs look like and the typical bed bugs size being of an apple seed.

How to tell if you have bed bugs?

Bed bugs are elusive and difficult to spot, especially at the early stages of infestation. Often people will have no hard evidence that they actually suffer from bed bugs. They will only have a very strong suspicion based on the five signs of bed bug activity described below. 

Early signs of bed bugs

Most people will not realise they have a bed bug infestation until the day they see bed bugs on the bed. Our mind sees only what it wants: mosquito or spider bites, ink spots, reactions to food allergies, etc. Because we all react differently to bed bug bites and many conditions have similar symptoms, we must look for more evidence to support one hypothesis over the other. Summertime, in particular, further exasperates this confusion because of the similarities between bed bug bites and mosquito bites.

dead bed bug

Itchiness from bites

The biggest telltale sign of having bed bugs is getting bites and suffering from itchiness as a result. Thankfully, bed bug bites do not transmit diseases, but they are very irritating. The areas of your body most at risk are your arms, head and neck because they are easily accessible when you sleep.

Bed bug bites look like raised, red blotches on the skin. And sometimes, they may only appear a day or two after the bite. Depending on your skin type, you may have an extreme immediate reaction or you may not react at all. It is also possible to begin feeling the bed bug bite itch up to a week or two later. By this point, the infestation is already established. You’ll want to avoid scratching these bites as much as possible as doing so will cause a bed bug rash and increase the inflammation and risk of infection.

Bed bug bite treatments are available in most drug stores and will often be soothing anti-inflammatory creams. For most of us, we will only suffer mild bed bug bites symptoms; for others, the bed bug bite marks may be more like an allergic reaction. If the latter occurs for you, approach your GP and contact a pest control company without delay.

Poor sleep

Itchiness can be the direct cause of another early sign of bed bug infestation. This section is more of a follow-up than a separate point to the above. The bed bug bite heat rash can be so bad that it affects your sleep. In combination with anything else mentioned in the article, uncomfortable nights are strong indicators that you have bed bugs and are in need of pest control services.

Bloodstains on bed sheets and mattress

Bed bugs get to us for three reasons: our body heat, the carbon dioxide we exhale, and our blood. In fact, bed bugs rely on blood as their food source, which is why they bite us. Another telltale sign of a bed bug infestation is waking up to see little red stains on your bedsheets and pyjamas.

blood poop on mattress

Such stains come either from rolling onto some bed bugs and squashing them in your sleep, or them extruding the excess water from their meal. We know this isn’t a pleasant image, but it’s important you recognise this sign if you ever come across it.

Eggs, excrement and exoskeletons

Equally as unpleasant as the previous sign, seeing brown, rust-coloured bed bug stains on your bedframe could be a sign that you have a bed bug problem. These brown specks are likely bed bugs droppings and you rub them with a little water. Contrary to an old ink stain, bed bug spots made of blood will smear.

signs of blood on bed frame

Alternatively, it could be bed bug skin. Bed bugs, like all insects, have exoskeletons instead of bones. As they age and outgrow their current exoskeleton, bed bugs shed skin and develop a new one. If you have a bed bug infestation you can sometimes find discarded exoskeletons around your bed. Finding bed bug skin would be as conclusive as finding dead bed bugs.

You may also notice the eggs of bed bugs, which are white and usually in clusters. Bed bug eggs are not easy to describe. They are incredibly small and may go unnoticed, but in combination with the aforementioned, these are sure signs of bed bug activity.

Odour problem

The final sign of bed bugs is a musty, damp odour in the room. The smell could arise from any piece of furniture and is similar to a wet dog or old mouldy clothing. It emanates naturally from the bed bugs’ scent glands. As a general rule: the stronger the smell, the stronger the infestation.

Do bed bugs bite?

Of all the signs of bed bugs, bites are the most characteristic. Bed bugs are hematophagous and possess piercing mouth parts that allow them to reach our capillary blood vessels. 

Bed bug bites on humans in order of frequency:

  • bed bug bites on neck and chest
  • bed bug bites on arm
  • bed bug bites on hands
  • bed bug bites on legs
  • bed bug bites on ankles
  • bed bug bites on face

Can you see bed bugs?

A single bed bug is difficult to spot for various reasons. First, it will only come out once a week when you are sleeping to feed; so, the chance of you taking notice is slim, as it will spend the remainder of the time digesting its meal. But as the bed bug population begins to build up, so does the interval at which a bed bug feeds on you. Bed bugs are most visible when they are moving, as the movement attracts our gaze.

picture close up

How big are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed. Their shape and colour vary depending on if they have had a recent meal or not. Red bed bugs will have just fed, and their shape will be oval. Brown bed bugs will have fed recently, they will have excreted the excess water and their shape will be rounder. Very flat, pale brown bed bugs will be in need of feeding.

What do bed bugs look like on a mattress?

Bed bugs are likely to hide in the crease of the mattress or directly on the bed frame. So, as you follow the crease you may be lucky and see the insect. More likely, however, you will see a cluster of bed bugs, a few adults, some nymphs and a nondescript mess made of eggs and shed skins.

A typical feature of breeding sites where bed bugs congregate is a higher concentration of bed bug poop. Look at the junctions between bed parts, around screws and the slat brackets.

How do you know if you have bed bugs?

Initially, your body may not react at all. But over time, it will develop an immune reaction and react more violently to bed bug bites. As the population builds up, you will have bites from both baby bed bugs and small bed bugs (those who are not yet adults). Small bed bug bites will be more numerous than adults one, but cause a more diffuse inflammatory response.

 GPs may only view the symptoms as an allergic reaction of some kind and prescribe an anti-inflammatory cream. But the only way to know for sure that they are bed bug bites is to find hard evidence or do laboratory tests. 

If after a pest control treatment, one would still suffer the same symptoms, or more off, then the cause may not actually be pest control related after all. I came across at least 2 persons who, it turned out, suffered from urticaria and eczema. 

Bed bugs or flea bites on humans

How do you know if you have bed bugs and not fleas? There are no obvious ways to tell flea and bed bug bites apart. A bite remains a bite; an inflammatory skin response is just that. However, fleas tend to be found at floor level and on surfaces, and flea bites are expected to be mostly at lower leg level. In contrast, bed bugs are drawn to the CO2 we exhale and will often be more active at upper body level.

But beware that there are no strict rules, especially if the tenants move the bed or the mattress around; what was once on the headboard side may suddenly be at the feet.

How to check for bed bugs

When you check the property for bed bugs, you need to check the bedrooms and the sitting room. Bed bugs mostly build up in areas where people sleep so they can feed. They could be hiding anywhere 1.5 metres around the bed. You need to check all these areas systematically and thoroughly for any signs of bed bug activity.

Have a good torchlight, and a small wet sponge, and follow the full rim of the mattress. If you see any round dot anywhere, take the wet sponge gently and see if it washes away. If it smears at all, it is blood, and it is pretty much the confirmation you were looking for.

Then flip the mattress over, and check the other rim. Remove the mattress from the bed frame and inspects every corner, concentrate on where are the screws, and slates attachments. Flip the bed frame on its side, and check the back as well. If there is a headboard, check for the presence of blood in the upper back corners, and around the fitting.

Also, check for bed bugs at the back of the side furniture, and so on.

1- the mattress

2- the bed frame/divan with drawers

3- the back of the headboard

4- the picture frame on the wall above the bed

5- the curtain rail above the bed

6- the skirting board below the bed

In principle, the more cluttered the room, the more stuff you store below your bed, and the more difficult how to check for bed bugs.

Getting on with a bed bug treatment

If you’ve discovered any of the aforementioned signs, get in touch with us today. Bed bugs are a difficult pest to control and are horrible to live with—seek the help of a professional. Here at Inoculand, we have years of experience taking care of bed bug infestations. We described in this article how to tell if you have bed bugs, we can go into more details and explain to you how to check for bed bugs 

Our bed bug fumigation service relies principally on Cimetrol Super and Biopren 6EC. These are the products of choice, but we also have an organic 100% natural option. Moreover, we use the latest and most effective method of bed bug heat treatment to fully cleanse your house of bed bugs. We’re so confident in our service that we offer a guarantee.