Skip to main content

How to Handle Bed Bug Bites on Kids

Melody is a volunteer for the Center for Disease and Control Prevention. She enjoys sharing her personal experience with others.

Do you know the signs and symptoms of bed bugs?

Do you know the signs and symptoms of bed bugs?

What Is Biting My Child at Night?

We seldom use the phrase "Don't let the bed bugs bite" with children in 2019, the year of the bed bug. Instead, parents are asking how to get rid of those bugs. This page contains photos to give you an example of what bed bug bites look like on children. The information about rashes found here is meant to help give ideas about how to deal with a child's physical and psychological reactions to bed bugs.

It doesn't have to be so scary. It's a more common issue now, one that is widely overlooked in the current epidemic. Not understanding the facts can cause fear, and that fear creates distress in adults and children.

What to Do if Your Kids Are Bitten by Bed Bugs

  • Learn about bed bugs, feces, and eggs.
  • Know how to identify bed bugs and possible bites.
  • Get rid of bed bugs with an exterminator such as Terminix.
  • Buy supplies such as mattress covers, traps, and pesticides from or Amazon.
  • Talk with your children honestly.
  • Treat rashes with baking soda paste or Hydrocortisone cream.
  • Call a doctor if you are worried your child may have a serious allergic reaction.
A 6-year-old boy's bed bug bites.

A 6-year-old boy's bed bug bites.

Children and Bed Bugs

Increased amounts of time spent at school and with friends proportionally raises the risk that kids will be bitten by bed bugs or even bring them home. You never know when or where they might pick up a rogue pest. This makes it important to know how to inspect children for bites. If you know what to look for, you can identify the problem as soon as possible.

What Do Bedbug Bites Look Like on a Child?

  • According to the New Hampshire Department of Health, only children who have a serious allergy get true welts from bed bug bites, so you might not see anything so distinctive as a welt.
  • Bed bug bites do not have a bite mark in the center. If the bite is a welt and/or has a bite mark in the center, it could be a spider, mosquito, or even a flea bite. (As with anything, there are exceptions to this rule.)
  • Some people experience itchiness, welts, or swelling 24 hours after exposure, but the reaction might not be dramatic or obvious for several days, and some never react at all. In other words, the bites might not be itchy or leave any mark at all.
  • If a child scratches a bed bug bite enough, the skin might break, causing a sore to develop. Scratching might also cause the bite to resemble a flea bite with a mark in the center. While bed bug bites are not dangerous, these sores can get infected.
  • Children who have serious reactions to bed bug bites could experience shock, such as with other insect bites.
  • Something else worthy of mention: When a bed bug bites are an area covered with hair, the bite mark might look like a follicle in the skin where the hair grows instead of what it really is.
Bed bug bites on a child's elbow.

Bed bug bites on a child's elbow.

Identifying a Bed Bug Bite on a Child

  • The bites might be flat or raised welts. They're usually small and pink (a severe reaction may cause large, red rashes).
  • Look for rashes in groups of three or more; although they do not always follow this pattern, they often do.
  • The bites may be grouped together.
  • You may see a line or a zigzag of bites.

Bed bug bite symptoms are an allergic reaction. Some children will have no reaction; however, others will react dramatically. I am not going to go into the science, but every person's body responds differently to different allergens. Plus, a person can develop an allergy at any time.

Bed bug bites on children tend to be larger and more pronounced than they are on adults. Children are more sensitive, so they tend to have more exaggerated reactions. Some children may also have a delayed reaction.

This article, What's the Difference Between Bed Bug, Mosquito, and Spider Bites?, helps identify exactly which kind of bug is biting.

How to Inspect Children for Bed Bugs and Bites

  • Check kids when they return from a friend's house, a sleepover, or camp, but remember that it takes about 24 hours for a reaction to develop, and some may not get a reaction for a week or more after being bitten. So, depending on when the child may have been bitten, you may have to inspect again later.
  • In addition, about half of people never develop any visible reaction to the bites whatsoever.
  • If you have cause for alarm, you can place all items in a large zip lock bag before they come in the house.
  • Inspect before the child settles into bed or sits down on the couch. Try to inspect them without making a big deal about it. You can eyeball a child pretty easily—they do not even have to know you are looking.
  • Start with the head, neck, and shoulders. Look at the hairline (but you do not have to inspect hair as thoroughly as you would for lice).
  • Look for small red dots that are often grouped, three or more.
  • Look at all areas of skin that might have been exposed while they were sleeping: arms, legs, torso, hands, shoulders, etc.
  • Whatever you do, don't alarm the kids. They are looking at you for cues to guide their own reactions.
  • Treat a bed bug inspection with the same care and urgency as a lice inspection. You want to be thorough but calm.
  • You'll also want to check their beds for signs of infestation.

Controlling Fear

In today’s world (where one in five people polled say they know someone who's had a bed bug problem), most kids have heard of bed bugs, but they don’t really know how to recognize either the bug or the bites. They also don't know how to cope with their feelings in regards to these bloodsuckers.

Some parents have become so afraid of an infestation that they are scared to let their kids go to friends' houses or have sleepovers. This is understandable, but there are ways to allow children to experience life safely.

Safety involves communication. Some people might be so embarrassed that they try to hide the truth of an infestation from everyone, while others might shamelessly blabber the news to everyone. I believe that honesty is the best course of action. Ethically, it prevents others from being exposed and emotionally, it lightens the burden of suffering and shame.

Children will notice your reaction, and if you react with fear, hysteria, or shame, it could cause them grief. Being aware of their feelings and educating them about bed bugs can help reduce some of the stress.

How Long Does It Take for a Bed Bug Rash to Develop?

A lot of people ask this question, but there is no one answer. From what I have seen, a reaction usually develops within 24-48 hours of exposure and fades in 24-48 hours, but not everyone has the same reaction.

Some people swear it takes 9 or 14 days to develop a rash, and that may be true, but it could also be that they stayed at a hotel 9 or 14 days ago and want to blame it on the hotel, not their own home or family members. Or perhaps they brought a bug home, and bites went undetected.

Some children can have severe allergic reactions. For example, one asthmatic child may have no serious reaction to bites, and healthy children end up going to the doctor for steroid cream or a shot. The reverse happens, too.

How long it takes to develop red dots depends on the person. The average time it takes to see visible rashes is within the first two days after the bite—about half of the people who are exposed never develop any reaction at all.

Treating Bed Bug Rashes on Kids

  • As a general rule, children with reactions should always go to the doctor. Prescription-strength hydrocortisone cream will likely be recommended. This stuff works great on bed bugs. For most people, it stops itching and makes the redness fade.
  • In rare cases, an allergic reaction to an insect bite may require treatment. Your doctor may prescribe steroid shots or antibiotics to fight infection.
  • If you really do not want to go to the doctor, then get some other type of cream or lotion to treat the itching. Prescription-strength cream is the best, but my personal favorite nonprescription product for all types of skin rashes, including bed bugs, is Cortisone 10 Maximum Strength Intensive Healing Formula.
  • Check the way your child is feeling. Is he worried others will notice? Reassure him that it's not a big problem. Is the bite itchy? You want to make sure that excess scratching doesn't damage the skin and lead to infection.
  • Babies who have bed bug bites should always be taken to the doctor.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Bed Bugs

If you do not have bed bugs, you probably have little reason to talk to your kids about them. However, if you do have them, you may be feeling conflicted.

You have a choice: Either talk to your children openly and honestly or try to keep it hidden. Only you will know which is right for your family. Just know that there is a good chance your kids will figure it out on their own.

  • If you decide not to tell your kids, you can explain the marks away as spider bites. If the bites continue over time, you might get away with saying, “Oh, we better spray for spiders; we must have a ton!”
  • Another problem with hiding the truth is that it could interfere with your bed bug plan.
  • Pesticides need to be used safely in homes with children. If you do not tell them about bed bugs, you should at least say you are doing a bi-annual spray.
  • For safety reasons, even if you do not want to talk to your children about the infestation, it is important to alert your children to the fact that you have sprayed. Explain the limits in boundaries to protect them from contamination.
  • The truth is kids are very aware of what is going on around them. If you can get the infestation under control quickly, you may never have to have the talk. If not, then you may have no other choice.
  • The more prevalent bed bugs get, the less stigmatized these infestations will become. As I said before, I believe that honesty is the best course of action, ethically and emotionally. Fear and shame or humor and education: The reaction is up to you. You could even turn this experience into a science experiment and/or enlist your children's help. Read some books and watch some videos together so you all can learn more.

Preventing Fear, Anxiety, and Shame Caused by Bed Bugs

  • One great way to head off or eliminate fears is to create a safe zone. Give each child a zippered mattress and pillowcase cover and a bed bug-resistant backpack for use during sleepovers. You can find bed bug bedding products in some stores, on Amazon Prime, and from USBedbugs Protection & Prevention Products.
  • If you tell your kids about the problem and then let them help you fix it, they will experience more control over the situation. Involving them in the process will help them control their fears.
  • If the child knows they have a bed bug-free place to go, they are more likely to cope well.
  • You can also get zippered bed tents or dresser drawer liners.
  • Provide a supportive and caring environment where kids can talk about their worries and get help.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Are bed bug bites small or large?

Answer: Bed bug bites are small. However, on kids they might look bigger than they are because a child has scratched them, increasing irritation.

Question: Can a child develop a fever after severe bites?

Answer: Bed bugs do not spread disease or inject venom or poison that are known to cause a fever. It is difficult to tell what would cause the fever in this situation. It could be an allergic reaction, an infection from the wound itself, or something else entirely. In this scenario, doctors recommend seeking medical care for the child.

Question: Will a scar from a bed bug bite clear up after the child has scratched and caused bruising?

Answer: Children are very resilient. Their bodies heal faster, and more efficiently than that of an adult. I can't tell you if it will clear up or not. However, kids are less likely to scar than an adult.

There are some things you can do to increase the chances that the bed bug bite will not fade into a permanent scar.

1. Clean wound with warm water and use antibacterial creams. Neosporin is a great choice, They have new products that are even made to prevent scars.

2. Use Calamine lotion to prevent the itching.

3. Buy a scar removal cream. There are real products, usually made with Vitamin E and other active ingredients, that reduce the appearance of scars. I use Mederma, but there are lots of great brands out there.

© 2012 Melody Collins


MeganC86 on October 12, 2019:

Hi, my son gets bit all over his

Cheat and arm, they bother him a lot. He seems to have had a reaction of sorts them, he only gets bit in his room, we never get bit by anything and our daughter doesn’t either. Just him. I’ve checked his bed and the room

And I’ve seen none of the traditional markings of bed bugs, any advice would be appreciated as I have no idea why this is happening

crystal gerard on January 29, 2019:

my daughter got them to when she came home from her cousins house but she only had them on her hands she did not get a fever from them but we did not know what they were

David on January 28, 2019:

Hello: A few months ago my daughter started to get what appeared to be bug bites. We thought they may be mites, spider or mosquitos or even some sort of rash. They did't look like pictures of what I've seen bedbug bites to be. Also, my son is in the same room and gets nothing. She'll get 3 or 4 usually on her hands, arms or face and then they clear up and in a couple of weeks she gets more. They don't see to itch. We searched for any signs of bugs and as a precaution, my wife sprayed with an over the counter bedbug spray, vacuumed well and washed/heated all bedding and stuff animals etc. She is still getting the marks. I've made an appointment for a dermatologist and allergist, but am really at a loss. Don't want to spent tons on extermination for something we may not have. Any advice would be appreciated. THANKS

alyssa a on July 21, 2018:

my son is breaking out on back and but. looks like bed bugs but i see no other sign and the boys have been sleep on the couch all summer together and the other isnt breaking out. he also misbehaved which is unlike him inless sick and grabbed his ear so know im not sure if it is bed bugs. what shoukd i do?

Melody Collins (author) from United States on July 12, 2017:

Phillip: I agree. There should be more restrictions on selling bug infested furniture. It is unlikely that bed bugs will cause any long term damage for your 8-month-old. However, the discomfort could be great.

Since you have a baby, if you have or get bed bugs, I would call a professional. It may cost you $1000 or more.

Also, know that there are lots of bed bug products sold on Amazon designed for babies. There are crib mattress covers and netting that can be used to protect your child.

Sometimes these products are sold as bed bug products. But mosquito netting can double for bed bugs in some cases, as long as it seals.

Phillip cox on July 04, 2017:

I'm worried that bed bugs might hurt my 8 month old I think people should not b allowed to sell cloths/beds/and couches that are used they should be fined and forced to burn all used products

miranda on November 27, 2012:

im getting bitten by bed bugs and i keep on itching them but i put cream on it and it works a little and sometimes it don't work when i put it on sometimes

Mother on November 12, 2012:

A mother that sharing information about bedbugs is r the right thing to do.My chid want to school on Friday and came home with bites on her.

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on June 20, 2012:

We had three months of torment with these things. My daughter had a friend spend the night and I guess she brought them. It took a while for them to get to the point where we noticed them and then they were everywhere. We had Orkin come in and spray two months in a row, as well as getting rid of all mattresses, box springs, and upholstered furniture. We also had to dry every item of cloth in the house for 20 min. in the dryer. I sew and have lots of material. It cost me $30 in quarters to dry all of that.

Melody Collins (author) from United States on June 12, 2012:

Great comment, thanks for the info. Bed bugs only bite once a night, and they do not eat every night. So yes, most of these pictures are from homes with more serious infestations.

I am glad you mentioned garage sales, I forgot that one. You used to be able to get good stuff people left by the curb, and now you have to avoid that at all costs. You are right, buying at garage sales can be just as risky! Thanks for reading!

Pamela Dapples from Arizona. on June 12, 2012:

This is a great hub you've written.

There is quite a growing problem of bed bug infestation on the islands of Hawaii, so I attended a free class on it last year. Bed bugs especially like to travel by air on the airplanes in coach or First Class. They also love to travel from one hotel to your destination via your luggage which you set up in the hotel you are visiting.

I'm not sure if you have mentioned in one of your hubs that a bed bug only bites once a day. So in the photos of the bites on the children's bodies there were a LOT of bed bugs coming out to dine at night. They are attracted to the carbon dioxide human beings expel from their mouth when sleeping. This is why a new infestation of bed bugs begins with just one or two camping out at the top of your mattress. You can see the little brown dots of feces there near the rolled seams of the mattress. Later, the bed bugs travel to different parts of the mattress and different areas of the room such as the dresser drawers.

Buying used dressers at a garage sale? This can be a way to bring bed bugs into your home. The bed bugs hide very well in different components of the dresser drawers and frame -- even under the drawer handles.

Voting your hub up and across.

Anjili from planet earth, a humanoid on May 21, 2012:

Thanks for sharing this information. I once experienced these disgusting pests and learnt how to counter them the hard way. I won the battle, never to see them again. I realized recently that infection can recur through public transport, a visit to infested localities or from a visitor. I've not seen the bug for several years. Voted up and useful.