The effects of bed bugs on human health can be quite serious. Bed bugs don’t only cause itchy spots on the skin. Because they drink your blood, bed bugs can cause many different health problems.
The effects of bed bugs on human health include allergic reactions (including anaphylactic shock), anemia, nausea, breathing problems, panic attacks, sleep deprivation, and PTSD. The only way to avoid health issues caused by bed bugs is to kill the infestation and keep it away permanently.
Everybody reacts differently to bed bug bites. Some people don’t even get itchy spots. Others might have serious health problems caused by bed bugs like anemia or allergic reactions.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Bed Bugs and Your Health
- 1.1 Allergic Reaction to Bed Bugs
- 1.2 Do Bed Bugs Transmit Disease?
- 1.3 Do Bed Bugs Cause Anemia?
- 1.4 Can Bed Bug Bites Make You Nauseous?
- 1.5 Can Bed Bugs Cause Breathing Problems?
- 1.6 Can You Die from Bed Bug Bites?
- 1.7 Do Bed Bugs Cause Panic Attacks?
- 1.8 Bed Bugs and Sleep Deprivation
- 1.9 Do Bed Bugs Cause PTSD?
- 1.10 Bed Bug Hypervigilance
- 1.11 Bed Bugs During Pregnancy
- 1.12 Bed Bugs and Babies
- 1.13 Related Articles:
Bed Bugs and Your Health
The short term effects of bed bug bites are obvious enough. They cause small, red spots. But bed bugs have many long term effects too. These can be both mental and physical, and will get worse if your infestation is large. Left untreated, these conditions can become serious.
Some of these effects are a result of the bed bug’s bite. They range in seriousness from minor to life-threatening. Other effects stem from your psychological reaction to bed bugs.
Allergic Reaction to Bed Bugs
Bed bug bites are an allergic reaction as the swelling you experience is due to the histamine. The body’s immune system releases histamine in response to threats.
However, it is possible to have a general allergic reaction to bed bug bites. Full allergic reactions, such as you might experience if you have a peanut allergy, are rare. It is also possible for them to cause anaphylactic shock.
If this happens, you will experience symptoms such as:
- Hives, flushed skin or paleness
- Feeling too warm
- Feeling like you have a lump in your throat
- Abdominal pain
- Weak and/or rapid pulse
- Swollen tongue and/or lips
- Runny nose and sneezing
Experiencing anaphylactic shock after a bed bug bite is rare. The most common response to a bed bug bite is no response at all.
Approximately fifty percent of people experience no reaction when they are bitten. If this is the case, the bites won’t itch or swell.
Do Bed Bugs Transmit Disease?
Bug species that feed on blood are known for spreading disease. Lyme disease, spread by deer ticks, is an example. Other insects are responsible for conditions like malaria, yellow fever and more.
Bed bugs don’t spread disease, however. There are several reasons for this:
- Bed bugs only usually feed on people. They cannot spread diseases from one species to another, like the plague.
- Bed bugs only feed on one or two people, and are limited in their range to one house.
- Bed bugs don’t carry dangerous bacteria or parasites. This applies even if they feed on someone that has an infection.
According to Clinical Infectious Diseases, bed bugs can transmit some bacteria. Wolbachia species are an example; many tests have shown bed bugs to carry them. However, the clinical effects of bacteria like these are minimal or unclear.
The most severe condition they may spread is Trypanosoma cruzi. This condition is usually spread like kissing bugs, which are similar to bed bugs. Laboratory tests prove that bed bugs can spread it, but no natural occurrences have been proven.
It is possible for bed bugs to cause infected spots on your skin, too. This happens when you scratch one of their bites. After you scratch away a small amount of skin, the spot can become infected with bacteria.
These infections don’t become serious, as the wound is tiny. However, they do itch and sting.
Do Bed Bugs Cause Anemia?
Anemia is a condition where you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells. This lack of red blood cells means that your body can’t correctly distribute oxygen. This will make you feel fatigued and weak.
There are several different forms of anemia. Some occur because of a problem with how you produce red blood cells. However, anemia can also be caused by a general lack of blood. The body usually replenishes blood, but a sudden loss can make doing so difficult.
The symptoms of anemia include:
- Fatigue (i.e., tiredness)
- Pale or yellow skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Chest pain and headache
- Cold hands and feet
Anemia often has a slow onset. This makes it difficult to notice. Anemia caused by bed bugs is rare, but it is possible. A paper in CMAJ discussed the case of an older man with a severe infestation.
The man had left his infestation untreated for some time. It was estimated that his infestation numbered in the thousands. His family physician even reported seeing bed bugs crawling over the patient during a visit.
Each night, the man was most likely being bitten several hundred times. This is far more than you experience in an average infestation. It’s highly unlikely that you will experience the same issues.
Can Bed Bug Bites Make You Nauseous?
Nausea is familiar to anyone and everyone. It is a non-specific symptom, meaning that it has several possible causes. The most common of these are gastric problems, motion sickness, low blood sugar, and various infections.
Aside from these physical causes, nausea also has mental causes. You can become nauseous thinking of something ‘disgusting,’ like eating something you don’t like. If you think about them enough, the idea of bed bugs feeding may make you nauseous.
Bed bugs don’t cause nausea in a physical sense. Their bites don’t contain anything that will make you feel sick. However, if you don’t like insects, then seeing them might make you nauseous.
This isn’t anything to worry about. It’s the same nausea that you experience in any other situation, and doesn’t have any long term ramifications.
Can Bed Bugs Cause Breathing Problems?
While bed bugs do inject a small amount of numbing agent, they inject nothing else. The point is that they don’t affect your breathing biologically. If they did, they would be a much more significant nuisance.
However, there are two ways that bed bugs affect your breathing. The first is through anaphylactic shock, i.e., an allergic reaction. When an allergic reaction occurs, one of the symptoms is difficulty breathing.
Aside from that, bed bugs can cause anxiety. Panic attacks are notorious for making it difficult to breathe. Even generalized anxiety can give you breathing trouble. You start taking shallow breaths, and can’t breathe deeply.
This happens if you spend too long thinking about bed bugs. Because they’re such a pest, it can be difficult not to think about them, both day and night. However, to be clear, anxiety is not directly brought on by the bites themselves.
Can You Die from Bed Bug Bites?
It is possible to die from bed bug bites, but it is doubtful. Loss of blood in any context can kill you. That’s because your blood contains nutrients, hormones, and oxygen. Without enough of these, you can die quickly.
Bed bugs feed on human blood. One bed bug only takes a small amount each time they feed. That amount is much less than a medical syringe will take, e.g., for a blood test.
However, bed bugs feed frequently. And if you don’t combat them, they breed quickly too. In the worst cases, where your infestation numbers thousands, they can take a lot of blood. Over time, this can give you anemia.
In a more general sense, your body also uses nutrients to create more blood. This added stress can contribute to health issues and make them worse. Bed bugs could be a contributing factor.
However, none of this will happen if you’re in good health, and if you tackle the infestation. Cases of anemia are typically observed in the elderly. In old age, your body struggles to create more blood. It’s also harder to treat a room for bed bugs in old age.
An exception is if you go into anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic shock can kill people of any age. That’s why it’s recommended to keep an Epipen nearby if you may experience one.
However, this sort of reaction to a bed bug bite is unlikely. As such, the chances are practically none that an infestation could affect you to that extent.
Do Bed Bugs Cause Panic Attacks?
Bed bugs can cause panic attacks. Anything can cause panic attacks if a person exhibits a strong enough reaction to it. That’s why phobias are such an interesting issue, since severe responses to trivial things often cause them.
A panic attack is an intense response with sudden onset. The symptoms include shaking, sweating, inability to breathe, numbness and a feeling of dread. The fear is an essential component of a panic attack. The affected person feels like the world is ending.
During a panic attack, there’s little you can do but wait for it to pass. They are entirely different to, and more severe than ‘just worrying’ about something. Treatments including both counseling and medications are necessary.
Panic attacks are caused by psychological problems like panic disorder, social anxiety disorder or PTSD. These disorders can, in turn, be caused by bed bugs. This response occurs in many people who live with infestations.
A person that lives with bed bugs goes through severe psychological and physical stress. Episodes like these can cause generalized anxiety disorders, where you always worry about bed bugs.
This applies while the infestation is there. But it also applies once the infestation is gone. A person can live in worry that the bed bugs will come back. This could potentially cause panic attacks.
Bed Bugs and Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation affects the mind and body equally. It can be either chronic over a long period of time, or acute over a short period. Bed bugs can cause both chronic and acute sleep deprivation.
Bed bugs bite when you’re deeply asleep. They wait until 3, 4 or 5 am to bite. The point is so that they only bite when there’s little chance of you waking up. They can bite at any time, even during the day, but this is more common.
When they do bite, they use a numbing agent to stop you from waking. But they can nonetheless disturb you by crawling over you. And even if you don’t wake fully, they can still interrupt your sleep cycles.
More importantly, bed bugs make it difficult to get to sleep in the first place. When you have bed bugs, going to bed becomes a disgusting, disturbing, even frightening experience. Getting to sleep becomes harder.
Over time, this effect can add up. In severe cases, the amount of time spent not sleeping is similar to having a young child. Combined with disturbed sleep resulting from bites, this can have severe effects on your health.
Do Bed Bugs Cause PTSD?
PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. As a condition, it was only classified and recognized within the last few decades. It is an anxiety disorder like panic attacks are, but it has different symptoms.
PTSD is caused by experiencing traumatic events. These events could be things that happened suddenly, like a soldier might experience in a war. Or, they might be trauma that occurred over a long period of time.
The condition causes flashbacks that can be ‘triggered.’ These flashbacks are caused by something that reminds the person of the cause of their trauma. For example, a person might experience a flashback when they a car backfires, which sounds like a gun.
While bed bugs aren’t as serious a problem as others have, they can still cause PTSD. The emotional trauma they cause is real. The kinds of stress they cause include:
- Worrying that you might take them to work
- Concern that they may affect the health of your child, pets or partner
- A feeling of shame, and concern that people might find out
- Anxiety might come back after you get rid of them
Part of this is because bed bugs are tough to kill. You can try as hard as you like to try and get rid of them, but it doesn’t always work. This can make you feel helpless and unhappy. Over a long period of time, this can cause PTSD.
PTSD can be ‘cured’ through counseling and medication.
Bed Bug Hypervigilance
Hypervigilance is where you take excessive steps to avoid something. A person that’s hypervigilant with regards to cleaning might mop and vacuum several times a day, for example.
This behavior is regarded as unfavorable as it harms a person’s life. While their actions help clean the house—or keep bed bugs away—they are excessive. The person spends too much time trying to get rid of bed bugs.
This has knock-on effects in a person’s life. They don’t spend time with family and friends, or don’t eat healthily. They might not leave the house because they’re too busy. This can occur as a symptom of PTSD, or on its own.
Hypervigilance is similar to paranoia. This is a generalized psychiatric symptom, related to several mental health issues. It can be a personality trait. It’s a fear that someone or something is ‘out to get you.’
This is exacerbated by the bed bugs themselves. It takes a long time to kill an entire infestation.
Bed Bugs During Pregnancy
If a woman is pregnant, this makes specific health issues much more severe. However, this doesn’t apply to bed bugs. Bed bugs during pregnancy are no worse than at any other time.
You will find that the bed bugs don’t feed with an increased frequency during pregnancy. They don’t cause any different conditions to those listed above. There is no suggestion that bed bugs affect unborn children in any way.
The main issue is that they might cause added and unnecessary stress. They disturb your sleep and make you anxious, which you don’t need when you’re carrying a baby.
Bed Bugs and Babies
Newborns are sensitive. It’s vital that you keep them away from anything that could harm them. Bed bugs won’t hurt them, but they will cause itchy spots.
The only issue is that babies are so small that they’re disproportionately affected. If you were to be bitten a dozen times, all you would get are twelve spots. But a baby that’s bitten a dozen or more times might get anemia.
The reason why is cl. Babies are smaller, have less blood by volume, and should be using their nutrients to grow. Not to regenerate lost red blood cells.
So, bed bugs are unlikely to cause your baby any significant health issues. But babies are more at risk than adults. As such, you should do everything you can to get rid of your infestation.
One instance where a doctor’s diagnosis might be useful is if you’re not sure you have bed bugs. A doctor might tell you whether your bites look like bed bug bites.
The issue is that bed bug bites look quite similar to other kinds of bite. Mosquito bites, for example, are similar to bed bug bites. They both cause the same local allergic reaction (the histamine reaction).
To diagnose bed bugs, then, a doctor shouldn’t be your first port of call. You should catch one or two, dead or alive, and keep them in a Ziploc bag. Give this bag to a pest controller, and they can tell you definitively that it’s a bed bug.
Whatever health problems bed bugs might cause, though, you should get rid of them.