Bed bug bites make you itchy and scratchy? Anti-itch remedies

by nobugsonme on June 1, 2007 · 34 comments

in bed bug bites, bed bugs

Updated 8/2015

We often hear people asking for remedies for the itching caused by bed bug bites.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with the itch from bed bug bites:

Keep your skin well-hydrated with a hypoallergenic, non-fragranced moisturizer applied twice a day (Aveeno and Cetaphil are great and among the reasonably-priced). Dry skin itches more. Frequent showers make skin drier (and you should keep the water as cool as you can, since hot water also dries skin.) Before bed bugs, I used lots of fun products. Once my skin was dry and under constant irritation, my usual moisturizers (which contained dyes and fragrances as most do) just dried my skin further. A dermatologist put me on to Aveeno and Cetaphil, and I have to say, things got much better once I started using a good plain unscented, un-pigmented moisturizer twice a day.

Most importantly, do everything you can to resist the urge to scratch bed bug bites. It takes a tremendous act of will power, at first. However, once you do scratch, the itching will be magnified by many times, and the act of willpower required to resist will be even greater. When I finally, finally, stopped scratching, the bites became much smaller (sometimes unnoticeable), scabs healed, and I was so much more comfortable. I had to make a conscious choice not to scratch (and re-make that choice every day), but it was so much better than when the scratching was irritating my skin further.

Specific remedies for itching due to bed bug bites which have been recommended by Bedbuggers:

Early Bedbugger forum regular Willow-the-wisp recommended ice to numb the itch.

Parakeets, another early forum regular, strongly recommended Corticool:

A number of readers seemed to find Benadryl helpful:

Benadryl for kids and a generic for adults are both available via our Amazon store.

Note that if you have a severe allergic reaction to bed bug bites (swelling or trouble breathing may be two signs), seek emergency medical assistance immediately. A severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to bed bug bites seems to be rare, but does occur, and has happened to at least one Bedbugger regular that I know of. (Luckily, she got swift medical assistance and survived.)

One reader wrote me once insisting that Glyerin USP could be used on skin (dabbed on with a Q-tip or cotton bud) to relieve the itchiness of bites. (Note: it can also cause drying; if you want to try this, dab only a little on your bites. Let us know if it works for you!)

As of 2013, David Cain of Bed Bugs Ltd. (UK) and our forums recommends Caribbean Breeze Aloe Burn Relief with Lidocaine for bed bug bite relief (assuming you are not sensitive to the ingredients).

Similar products from other brands which are based on aloe and lidocaine may be equally helpful– be sure and let us know about your experiences if you try them:

If you have recommendations for anti-itch remedies, please share them below!

Please note that the links above to Amazon.com are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through those links, the site is given a small commission (at no cost to you) which helps keep Bedbugger.com running. Please see our disclosure policy for more.

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1 willow-the-wisp June 2, 2007 at 10:25 pm

Good short article:
1–Baking soda compress (coo) is messy and would need to be gauzed and hospital taped over the area: the tape on a tummy might itch cause more problems.
2–the vinegar and all of the compresses are meant, I’d gather, as cool or almost cold, as would the ice (obviously).
3–Orajel and triple antibiotic combined, I feel, make an ideal OTC mix:
4–Many antihistamines are great for systemic itching. Benedryl is OTC or (prescribed one’s in that family are even better, yet all the best anti-itch antihistamines tend to make one drowsy.) At bedtime, who eventually wouldn’t want some little thing to help them itch less and get a decent 3-4 hours sleep?
With bedbugs … in the long haul … sometimes 3 or 4 hours IS considered a good night’s sleep.

2 DougSummersMS June 3, 2007 at 4:57 pm

Willow

I noticed that you did not list hydrocortisone. Do you recommend against hydrocortisone?

I have read that aloe and calamine cause the skin to dry out & are not the best choice either.

Thanks

Doug Summers MS

3 willow-the-wisp June 3, 2007 at 5:10 pm

I do Doug–especially if people are scratching the welts. As for Aloe I’m talking about a spot of Aloe Vera mixed up and sold as an “after-sun tan lotion gel (often also sold with menthol and or even some sort of Novocain-like substance in it all OTC.) All over the body would perhaps dry it—And I’m neither advocate nor a rejecter of using Calamine lotions nor some oat therapies: both could lead to drying I think. For instance, some oatmeal bar soaps are good for the oily skin of the face but perhaps not so good for us bedbuggers to use, as if, to bathe with oatmeal soap bars.

But I’m also not overly versed in this topic—you asked me Doug, and I have used both Calamine (with chicken Pocks) and oat soap—for Acne. Both were to drying for me to want to recommend as an anti-itch treatments in bed bug therapies al a “ we sort of make this all up as we go along.” That’s also not to say I’m totally sure that these latter, might work for some, others, however.

4 willow-the-wisp June 3, 2007 at 5:13 pm

Oh sorry…. that should read as. “Hi Doug. I do not usually recommend cortisone creams for people who are scratching welts or have infected welts or angry bites. This can slightly increase risks of infection

i.e. equasion: wet skin + no antimicrobial + scratch and itch = increased risks of infections.

5 DougSummersMS June 3, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Willow

Thanks,
I have used a aloe sunburn formula with benzacaine which helped with the itching, but seemed to dry out the lesions

I have another question about topical Benedryl cream. Is the topical lotion as effective as the capsule form or does the oral formulation have a better systemic effect? I was using Atarax in the evenings, but can’t take those agents during the day & be productive.

Doug Summers MS

6 DougSummersMS June 3, 2007 at 6:50 pm

Willow

I follow your reasoning for the oatmeal soap.

Would tea tree oil body shampoo be a good idea?

Doug Summers MS

7 willow-the-wisp June 3, 2007 at 7:16 pm

Doug–drying out the bite lesions to some degree is a worthy goal. If they are of the oozing types –I suggest no powders of any sort!
It is just that too much drying will cause more itching and flaking. I wrote a post on here what a month ago listing the tea tree oil ingredients sort of half jokingly half seriously. I’d refer you to nobug’s post on this topic. I say this because the tea tree oil I had—and there are many–had so many drying ingredients, and so that–for a body shampoo …
My thoughts are that tea tree oil is mainly a not too harsh astringent type of a product—usually.
I would recommend hair care shampoos specifically designed to re-hydrate your hair. (if you can’t get body washes without all the alcohol in them–and I think you can.)
I will even then occasionally supplement that with hair conditioner. Keratin (protein in hair) is really one of the major differences in hair verses skin. I have often done this in the pre bed bug days–and it keeps my skin not too dry at all.
If Jessinchicago say’s tea-tree is painful for bed bugs–I’d not want it on my skin as a body wash.
My bottle is specifically for facial drying of the oily areas I believe. So, there may be other tea tree oils products out there which differ.
Something pure, simple not acidic and more ph neutral sounds about right for and to me. A lot of fancy hair care products–so long as you’re not allergic to them–seem ideal and a lot cheaper than some of the 25 dollar 3 ounce cures out there.
(I’ve tried a few of those too btw on my face–good for looking younger is even debatable.
They seemed to give my skin a “glow”.
But on bites—some semi astringent methods may help to dry and I’d not over use them! Say I’d not dab it on overnight and wash the next morning. Too much drying altogether.
A simple lemon could sting and may help some in drying.
Nothing hotter than warm slightly salted water to “draw out an infection and promote healing … followed by a coo/cold application to relieve any annoying remnants of the astringent agents you might try on a bite—for a bit. I’d not put facial mud on it!
Baking soda—despite it’s awkwardness has it’s merits –I extrapolate here form thought not experience.
New bites should be let alone as far as drying agents, I feel. Older bites can perhaps be dried slightly using these astringent types of chemicals/substances.
Papaya has recently come up in the forums—that may have some merits too! A cool cucumber—they are not just for tired eyes any more!
My drift is more toward simple and natural—for the bites.

Phantom bites is another story…. Lotion that re-hydrates—and a cool bath is good—let yur bites alone for a while Phantom or otherwise ….
Then Put your favorite terry on and get a good cup of relaxing herbal tea …
I have to go there Doug—skin is the most prone to express our emotional states—save flat out crying. Our emotions will often express themselves on the skin—not just facial expression.
As always once daily multi-vitamins and B’s help the skin and nerve too!
I’m reminding you all—just suggestions. I’m not saying you should put lemons on all of your bites and hold them there for any more than a minute. However, to maybe try it once … it will sting, so will a warm salt compress on a inflamed wound. But after that—if it is that swollen I’d go the oral antihistamines and if worse—to a doc.
oh hair care products–its for convenience sake. if you can go NOBUG’s route try it too!.

8 willow-the-wisp June 3, 2007 at 7:22 pm

Also Doug, re topical antihistamines? I’m not sure but suspect the systemic effect is best for people with moderate to sever itching. its operating a steamer that’s the problem if your too drowsy–(or handling a dog in your case).
Can you alternate?
Pill at night topical during the day? A suggestion to “try.”
I’ve never seen the topical antihistamine nor tried them.
I still like oragel and triple antibiotic—supplemented with spot dabbing the alo after sun products—and a wash like no bugs recommends for shower and over-all skin hydration. That does make us less itch prone—moisturized skin.

9 DougSummersMS June 3, 2007 at 8:22 pm

Thanks for all the helpful suggestions.

Doug Summers MS

10 nobugsonme June 3, 2007 at 11:32 pm

Just to add my 2 cents:

Tea tree is wonderful for so many uses (on people, as well as Jess’s suggestion of using it as a moat to isolate bed legs). But it is very drying, so I would not use Tea Tree products on skin during all this. I did and so I can say I learned this the hard way.

11 nobugsonme June 3, 2007 at 11:57 pm

Doug,

My derm. recommends dove soap (also available as a liquid shower soap) which is very moisturizing.

By the way, people use tea tree as cheap, effective anti-fungal (to kill athlete’s foot, yeast infections, etc.) and astringent as Willow says. It definitely dries skin (though for many uses, it truly is amazing–not for bitten skin though!) People might be confused since usually “oils” are moisturizing, but it has a drying effect.

Also, out of curiosity, are you getting lots of bites as you go about your work inspecting with your K9? Are you dressing in a way to minimize this?

All the best!

12 Donna Porter June 6, 2007 at 3:09 am

Thanks for the mention on the itch remedy article! And yes, most definitely it’s related to bed bugs. Besides the drugs, vinegar saved my sanity.

I wish I had come across your site when I was looking for pictures and information – especially as my bed bug rash was atypical to start with, the picture of the bites you show are similar to what I had later on.

Now I am dealing with excessively dry skin, I need to lay off the caffeine a bit, but cocoa butter is helping – the lotion that helped during the episode, Eucerin, is not.
But either the meds (Claritin, Benedryl and prednisone) threw my skin way out of whack or it’s a result of the healing process. I haven’t done any research yet if this is common.

And you are _so_ right about the scratching – I will have some scarring it looks even in areas where I didn’t really scratch.

Well, my bed bug article made the showcase on AC today — I’ll add link here in the comments section and from my blog. If I could edit it to add in the article I would. Great site! Thanks for keeping everyone informed.

13 nobugsonme June 6, 2007 at 11:13 am

Thanks Donna, for your comment!

If you find it useful, please send people to our Frequently Asked Questions about Bed Bugs:
http://bedbugger.com/faqs

14 Donna Porter June 6, 2007 at 11:20 am

Ok will do! – Just a note though on the link, it goes directly to page two – and the way the page starts, it could pass for the start of the article. More good stuff on page 1 🙂 If you just delete the ?=page2 it will work. Lots of people do it so don’t feel bad. Thanks again.

15 willow-the-wisp June 6, 2007 at 4:11 pm

Thanks Donna … I did think your article was a bit short (lol).
Now I have seen the entire article (i.e., the first page) … and I find it even more helpful, and overall, simple great advice.
Note: Orajel, which I often advocate as in mixed with triple antibiotic–is still a good solution to put on a bite spot–But it does contain some chemicals that might cause allergic reactions. So, if you are having a reaction to that–(as Porter’s article suggests could occur–then you might want to try some plain lidocaine, in stead. This would likely be found in the “teething baby section” of any well-stocked pharmacy.

*Not hot, but cool to warm Baths with the vinegar sound so soothing. Eucerin is cheap and very oily–but it does do the trick of re-hydrating skin fast! Well-hydrated skin does tend ot itch less: and we hydrate our skin from the outside with a product like Eucerin–and our 6-8 glasses of water every day. (Drinking eight glasses of water, taken slowly, in the heat of the summer throughout the day is best.)

16 J R October 3, 2007 at 8:28 am

I’m surprised I haven’t seen this on here. I’ve found that Petroleum Jelly (i.e. “Vasoline”) quickly relieves the itchiness and stinging of bites as it helps to dilute and maybe inactivate some of the proteolytic ensymes that the BB leaves behind. In addition, the Petroleum Jelly also apparently smothers the nymph BB and by rubbing it around in the vicinity of the bite, one can often locate and remove these nearly invisible guys. (They feel like a small grain of sand) My background is not in entomology, but it is my opinion that the bites that suddenly occur during the daytime are most likely due to the nymph BB and that they presumably can spend considerable time crawling around on the skin.

Also, I’ve just recently come to the realization that the nymph BB will often attach themselves to the seams of your clothing so that they are strategically placed for an easy meal the next time you put on the piece of clothing. I’ve made the mistake of wearing the same piece of clothing more than once between washings and now I see the error of my ways!

17 hopelessnomo October 4, 2007 at 12:33 am

No, I don’t think that’s what’s happening. Bedbugs are attracted to humans long enough to feed (and we’re told their feeding can take several minutes) but once they’re done they want to get away from you and return to their harborages. They are creatures of efficiency and crafty energy conservationists, the little bastards. (Yes, we’ve all read the horror stories of very large infestations and what happens to people in those situations, but that is not likely your case.)

A bite that appears during the daytime is most likely a delayed reaction from the night before or some earlier time.

Perhaps you are thinking of mites, which bedbugs are not. Bedbugs do not fit the pattern you are describing. I think that if you were able to catch a bedbug crawling on your hand, you would definitely see it unless your eyesight were poor. There are several photos here which can may be useful.

But yes, dealing with your clothes and keeping it all securely bagged after washing and drying is necessary to avoid any accidental transporting of bedbugs here and there, because that can definitely happen. There are many FAQs here that can help, as well as the forums. Good luck to you.

18 hopelessnomo October 4, 2007 at 12:35 am

Oh, and crawling sensations are most likely part of the general allergic reaction to bites. They’re normal, we all get them. Which is not to say that you may not feel an actual bug crawling on you sometimes, but there is a whole FAQ about that.

19 J R October 5, 2007 at 8:47 am

I agree that the ADULT BBs tend to be very secretive and generally only come out late at night to briefly feed. However, what I’m referring to are the LARVE and NYMPH BBs. Unfortunately, the FAQs and the literature do not really provide very much description about the behaviors at these stages of the life cycle. I believe that is because they are extremely difficult to observe. Please go back and look at the pictures during these stages. They are extremely small and they are nearly translucent. They are basically invisible to the naked eye. In fact, I’ve had instances in which they have been crawling through the hairs on my arm and I’ve not been able to detect them under a magnifying glass even though the hairs were clearly moving. How weird! However, when the area is rubbed with petroleum jelly, I am able to clearly detect corpses of the insect and thus it is definitely more than just an “allergic reaction”. Moreover, because the immature BBs are very well camouflaged, there really is no biological reason why they need run and hide when exposed to light. Their eyes may not even be developed at this point and the act of finding a host could conceivably be done with other senses such as smell.

Could I instead be observing some other insect? Yes, that is certainly possible as I’m not observing under a carefully controlled laboratory environment. However, by leaving the lights on all the time, I have been able to occasionally detect and collect adult BB specimens so there is no question of a BB infestation. (And of course there are also the other telltale signs such as fecal droppings). Thus, considering that relatively little is known about the LARVE and NYMPH stages of the lifecycle, I cannot accept the unsupported arguments that crawling sensations and daytime bites are merely some delayed allergic or psychological aberrations.

20 hopelessnomo October 5, 2007 at 12:04 pm

OK, JR, definitely not in the mood to get in an argument with you, but, for the record:

a) I did not say psychological aberration anywhere. Crawling sensations are otherwise known as formication or, more generally, paresthesia. It is a physiological response that is extremely common in bedbug sufferers. Delayed allergic reactions to bedbug bites, “mere” or not, are abundantly documented in the literature.

b) “I am able to clearly detect corpses of the insect” — well, either there are bedbugs present on your skin or there are not: this is a proposition that is easily verified by having the samples examined by an entomologist. There is no need to speculate and alarm others. Place some clear tape on your skin when you feel the crawling sensations. Have a scientist identify the presence of invisible bedbug nymphs. Or not.

c) “there really is no biological reason why they need run and hide” — I barely have a high school education but I urge you to reexamine this statement. You’ll see.

We’ve been at this a very long time, JR. There is a mountain and a half of stuff we don’t yet know, but some things we do.

In any case, good luck.

21 nobugsonme October 5, 2007 at 1:09 pm

JR,

hopelessnomo is right.

Bed bugs do not want to be caught.

And it is completely normal to FEEL like they are biting you all day long, even though they aren’t. It is a physiological reaction. They will on occasion come out and bite you in the daytime, if they cannot do so at night and you are very still, for example lying on a sofa. They would then scurry off to hide. But it is very unlikely that you are being bitten all day. And if you were, and you looked, you’d see them.

You should look at the life stage photo and the photo of Lou Sorkin with a first instar nymph feeding on his hand. It is fully visible. There is no larval stage: they hatch as first nymphs.

I urge you to get some on tape from your arm as hopelessnomo describes. Those pests do not sound like bed bugs. An entomologist could identify them for you. And yes, it is unlikely but fully possible that you do have bed bugs in your home as well as some other kind of mite. It’s important to ID them properly (professionally) AND to have a good pest control operator get rid of them all ASAP. If you have bed bugs or mites, you do not need to put up with that.

22 James Buggles October 8, 2007 at 5:16 pm

(Sorry James, the HTML tags on the comments are a bit unusual. Editor.)

Hopeless wrote:

Crawling sensations are otherwise known as formication or, more generally, paresthesia. It is a physiological response that is extremely common in bedbug sufferers. Delayed allergic reactions to bedbug bites, “mere” or not, are abundantly documented in the literature.

I’ve heard of delayed onset of welts, but I’ve never heard of formication, delayed or otherwise, with regard to bed bugs. Can you point to some literature on this topic? Thank you.

23 Bitten and Swarmed March 29, 2008 at 1:06 am

I have found that Polysporin is an excellent topical application to relieve the itching from bedbug bites. This is available over the counter and doesn’t dry out the skin. It comes in a tube and is a petroleum based ointment used to help heal sores and cuts. You can find it at any drugstore. Once applied, the relief is practically instantaneous and can last for at least 4-6 hours, depending on the severity of and number of bites you have. It is best applied and then covered with a band aid or other larger dressing if you have a large area of bites. This band aid/dressing will keep the ointment on and protect your clothing from being stained by the product.

24 Denise June 4, 2008 at 8:12 pm

vagisil works on the itching. it contains benzocaine, which numbs the skins, as well as a skin protectant.

how in the hell do you sleep knowing you’ll get bitten and they’re in your bed? i look like i have chicken pox and i’m about to crack from the stress.

25 nobugsonme June 5, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Denise,

The only thing I can suggest is getting prompt professional help. And take heart, you can beat this.

26 Laura August 26, 2008 at 2:42 pm

as I was reading about itching and bites, I came across your postings here.

I have been suffering for the past 3 months, from intense nighttime, early morning and now ALL DAY itching.

I have a rash that comes and goes with the itching, that is between my breasts and up my neck and now on the inside of my elbow too.

I never considered the idea of bed bugs, but I do feel things suddenly bite me through the days. I like the idea of bagging up my clothes before wearing them again, rather than stuffing them into drawers. I may try that. I am hoping I can find some sort of relief soon. I have a dr appt on Friday, since we’ve tried every kind of lotion and nothing is working

Thanks for your input!

27 nobugsonme August 26, 2008 at 9:52 pm

Good luck with the doctor. It seems like there are lots of possible causes of itchy rashes that don’t involve bed bugs.

The pattern you describe makes this sound like something else — since bed bug bites are likely to be a bit more random, not moving in a general direction, just appearing here and there. Exposed body parts are more likely to be bitten, also.

28 Yura April 24, 2009 at 10:35 am

Peppermint oil or anything of the cooling effect helps a lot too, I find
My bites swells up and it’s red and warm, with the oil applied, it helps to cool down a bit
Also try those numbing gels (for teething babies), it’ll stop the itching temporarily

29 JKim April 24, 2009 at 5:19 pm

First of all, thank you for such an abundance of information for people like me who live alone and have to go through the hardships of dealing with BB without the support of family or close friends.

I almost never have allergic reactions to anything but this time I think I may be allergic ro just have sever reactins to BB bites. I get the usual itch after a day and then on the second, third or fourth day onward the bites itch like crazy and then swell up.For example I got 4 or 5 bites on my foot and it swell up as if I had a broken foot. At this point, the itchiness level goes off the barometer. Then after I put some 0.5 mg clobetasol propionate ointment which is a corticosteroid, I’m okay. However I become reallly alarmed when after a day this treated area turns red under the skin. I am trying to make a doctor’s appointment but in the meantime I hoped to see if anyone else experienced this. SInce it’s the weekend no appointments until next week. 🙁

30 nobugsonme April 25, 2009 at 12:09 am

Hi JKim,

Sorry you are going through this. Allergic reactions to bed bgu bites can vary a great deal.

If your condition becomes distressing or other symptoms arise (like trouble breathing) please do visit an emergency room.

I mention breathing trouble as in rare occasions bed bug bites have caused people to go into anaphylactic shock. It is very rare but does happen. (I am thinking of one former member of our forums who had such a severe reaction only once; other times she had more normal itchy bite reactions.)

31 SamK May 8, 2009 at 9:31 am

Hi,

I’ve been scanning this great site b/c I think I have bedbugs. I just wanted to offer a tip that I discovered after fighting a flea infestation I found when I first moved into my apartment. (yeah, fleas and now bedbugs- I’m already shopping for a new place- my current building is awful!).

I tried cortisone creams for the itch but that works well for an hour at most (for me) but the itch comes back. Plus, cortisone is serious stuff you don’t want to use often. What works best for me is a first aid spray called Bactine. It’s made by Bayer. It works very well for me to stop the itching for many hours at a time. (http://www.bactine.com/)

Great website by the way! Now to start my own little war on bed bugs! I hope to get on them before the problem gets bad. I think I only have a few.

32 Morganism October 4, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Carefull with the Tea Tree, and lavender oils. It appears they are endocrine disruptors, and shouldn’t be used by guys except for short periods.

33 nobugsonme October 5, 2009 at 1:54 am

Morganism,

We don’t recommend Tea Tree or lavender for bed bugs. There’s no evidence they will solve your problem, and plenty of anecdotal evidence they won’t.

If you have some documentation as to their dangers, please share a link or reference.

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