You’re maybe one of those who can’t see a bump or pimple without touching and scratching. Even worse, if you have a bed bug bite, they tend to leave itchy marks, and you can’t resist the temptation.
But is it appropriate to scratch? Does it make the problem worse?
Is it a bed bug bite?
As we know, bed bugs survive on human and animal blood, similar to fleas. Our body reactions to their bites is different from one person to the other. Sometimes they leave marks, but other times they remain unnoticed and are sometimes mistaken for a rash or a mosquito bite.
It is not always easy to differentiate the bites, but there are several cues that may guide your guess. For example, bed bugs have glands that release secretions with a musty smell. When a bed bug bites, the area becomes red and a bump appears after some time, usually accompanied by a burning sensation on the affected area.
The typical lesion pattern of a bed bug appears in a zigzag. You will find 3 to 5 bites at the same spot, sometimes in a straight line or in the form of clusters. These bites are usually located on the upper body, especially the arms, face, back and chest.
Should I scratch or leave it alone?
Their bite is usually very uncomfortable and people react according to the intensity of their symptoms, sometimes scratching the bitten spot and making the itching sensation even worse.
So, it is better trying not to scratch. Avoid it as much as you possibly can. In the event that the urge is overpowering, apply an ointment or balm to the bitten spot. There are several products we can use, like calamine (cooling agent) or pramoxine (topical anesthetic). But the worst part of being bitten by a bed bug is that sometimes you don’t realize you’re scratching the lesions. For example, when you’re under stress and tend to scratch without even realizing.
So, itching can be made worse by scratching but does it spread to adjacent parts or other parts of the body? All things considered, remember that these bites are non-infectious and non-contagious. So, when you scratch the bitten zone, it becomes swollen but won’t spread any infection. It won’t be contagious if you touch somebody else after scratching, either.
Bed bugs do not transmit diseases, but sometimes the bites can become infected. Signs of infection include pain, redness, swelling and burning in and around the bitten spot. Sometimes the bit has a red spot with pus, and if the infection becomes severe, you may even get fever and chills.
On the other hand, if you have an allergic reaction against bed bugs bites, you will experience more dramatic changes in the skin, and it might sometimes hurt or feel like burning. Allergic reactions may sometimes become life-threatening, too. So, consult a physician or dermatologist as soon as possible if you have emergency signs such as feeling nausea, vomiting, chills, trouble breathing and dizziness.
Why do you get itchy?
As mentioned above, bed bugs do not transfer any diseases. They suck blood from sleepy people and guide their bites following warm temperatures of the body. So, you won’t get a large list of microorganisms along with the bed bug bite, and this is not the reason why it gets itchy and you want to start scratching.
However, when a bed bug bites, it transfers anticoagulant and anesthetic substances through the beak into the skin. Here, anesthetic substances prevent the individual from waking up immediately, and the anti-coagulant substances stop the blood from clotting at the bitten spot. This allows the blood supply to remain constant, the bed bug continues feeding, and the person remains unaware the whole time. You start feeling the itch after some time, when the anesthetic substances wear off. But there will be anti-coagulant substances and other secretions at the bitten spot. Your immune system recognizes these substances and tries to attack them. In the process, it releases histamine, sending signals to the nervous system that you need to clear your skin from substances or invaders. That’s why you feel the urge to scratch.
If a person is bitten for the first time, the response is sometimes different because the body is unaware to the foreign bite. Some people don’t even respond to a new bite but some others have a very quick and aggressive response to upcoming bites.
What you can do at home instead of scratching
Here’s a list of ideas you can use instead of scratching:
- Apply cooling creams: Hydrating and cooling creams work fantastic to reduce the sensation of itching. You can use calamine or any of those cooling creams you use after a long day sunbathing at the beach.
- Use low temperatures: Heat will turn on circulation and expose the area to white blood cells and a stronger immune response. That’s why using cold temperatures work better to relieve swelling and itching symptoms. Keep your cooling creams refrigerated or apply some ice covered on fabric (not directly on your skin).
- Take a bath with oatmeal: You can find an ally in oatmeal if you take a bath or apply it directly to the itchy spot in the skin. It has substances that will soothe the skin and reduce the symptoms, at least temporarily.
- Press instead of scratching: Sooner or later, we will feel the urge or scratching and may not have any of the above measures immediately available. If you press on the area with your hands instead of scratching, it is less likely you will cause an infection or make the itching worse.
As mentioned above, it is also important to talk to your doctor or dermatologist, especially if you experience alarm signs and symptoms that include nausea, vomiting, chills, trouble breathing and dizziness.
Price, J. B., Divjan, A., Montfort, W. R., Stansfield, K. H., Freyer, G. A., & Perzanowski, M. S. (2012). IgE against bed bug (Cimex lectularius) allergens are common among adults bitten by bed bugs. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 129(3), 863.
Goddard, J., & deshazo, R. (2009). Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) and clinical consequences of their bites. Jama, 301(13), 1358-1366.