We often hear this from new Bedbuggers–that no matter where they go, they feel they’re being bitten and crawled on. But it’s unlikely.
Although you may feel the bites begin to itch any time during your day, and even days after you are bitten, you probably don’t feel them when they actually occur. So if you feel you are being bitten, don’t assume there are bed bugs in that space.
The feeling of bugs crawling on your skin is technically called formication, and we don’t fully understand it, but it may be caused by your allergy to bed bugs, or by bites already received (which often don’t itch until hours or even days after you’re bitten). It can sometimes be caused by delusional parasitosis (and this can even happen to people who have suffered from bed bugs in the past.)
As our FAQ (“What else could be causing this?”) states,
This American Entomologist article by Nancy C. Hinkle is entitled “Delusory Parasitosis” (click here to load a PDF), and it outlines how very real environmental, physical, and other conditions can cause similar symptoms to a bed bug infestation, including itching, crawling sensations (formication), skin conditions and rashes.
But in most cases, where bed bugs are still living in your environment, I believe formication is felt by Bedbuggers because we are reacting to something real. However, it was important for me to realize that this creepy crawly itchy feeling does not mean there is anything actually crawling on me at that moment (at least there wasn’t the 100 or so times i looked.)
To ensure that you truly are not being bitten all day long, even outside of your home, you might want to keep your washed clothes in sealed bags, and shower and change into clean clothes from a sealed bag when you go out (to avoid spreading bugs). Keep shoes and bags in a sealed place too. Frequent showers and/or hot showers can dry your skin and make itching worse. Use a moisturizer like Cetaphil or Aveeno or another that does not contain perfumes or dyes, to make sure your skin isn’t dry, which can make things worse.
Bed bugs excrete a substance that makes you NOT notice being bitten, and they’re also lightweight, adept travelers, and so you should not feel them crawling or biting. the itching might come soon after or much later. It may be worse in the hours after a shower, or if you’re in a warm room. S did some bite tests and reported feeling the crawling feeling as the bed bug walked away after its meal (and only after). However, most people glance at their skin when they feel formication, as I did, and see nothing. Most people check tens or hundreds of times. So I feel pretty safe saying most people don’t feel a bed bug biting them or waddling away. In fact, S is the first person I have heard this from, and she only reported this when she was purposefully being bitten and in full knowledge of when it occurred.
And try very hard not to scratch bed bug bites. This can take a huge act of will, but if you do it, you will itch less. A scratched bed bug bite itches more and longer.
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