Let’s start with a trigger warning – if you are super uneasy at the thought of bugs in your bed and blood – this blog post may not be for you. But, if you want to know what you could be sleeping with and how to prevent it, keep reading!
The roommates you never asked for – bed bugs, dust mites and fleas. They show up uninvited, overstay their welcome, and are a nuisance the entire time they’re there. Even though they are small, they can cause chaos and negatively affect your sleep and life!
If you’ve had the displeasure of experiencing bed bugs, dust mites or fleas, you know exactly what I’m talking about. These bugs found between the sheets can cause severe allergic reactions that make it difficult to sleep. And even without the itchy eyes, sneezing and rashes, the thought alone can keep you up at night!
Though they all like to make your bed their home, these three are quite different and it’s important to understand each in order to prevent them. Here’s everything you need to know about the bugs between the sheets!
Unliked dust mites, you can see bed bugs if you look close enough. Though small, they are between 5 to 7 mm and darker in color, so you can see them on your sheets. When they are young, they are yellow in color, but turn darker after they have fed and have blood in them.
Bed bugs are considered parasites. This means they feed on their host, which is often the person sleeping in the bed they call home – like you! They feed on human blood by piercing the skin and drinking away. When they “bite,” anticoagulants and anesthetic compounds within their saliva are injected into the skin. This simultaneously numbs the area while maximizing blood flow.
Unlike a tick, for example, they don’t stay on your skin. Once they have had their meal, which typically takes 5-10 minutes, they will leave you and hide. Yes, bed bugs love to hide, and they are pretty good at it! They can hide in floorboards, furniture, carpeting, bed skirts, and under mattresses. This is why many people don’t see them unless they really look for them. A well-fed bed bug will be on the bigger side, with an oval-shaped body and reddish-brown color, yet are typically only discovered after their host experiences a reaction.
A home or building with a severe infestation often possesses a sweet smell, and blood spots may be visible on bedding surfaces. Extreme infestations are a significant risk with bed bugs as they breed quickly. An adult female will lay roughly five eggs per day for the duration of her life. These will hatch ten days later and soon be procreating again, so you can see how things can escalate quickly.
People will react to bed bug bites differently. Some people don’t react at all, which can mean these bugs go undetected for longer. Others can experience a more severe reaction, with itchy, red rashes appearing where they have been bitten.
When well-fed, they can live up to a 18-months. And some research has found that bedbugs have evolved so much that they can withstand extended periods without food in a cold environment.
Over the past decade, there has been a resurgence in bed bug infestations. This is due to the increase in travel. One of the most common ways you can get bed bugs is by bringing them home with your luggage. Hotels and hostels can quickly become infested because of the constant influx of travelers who may bring them in with their luggage. Then, you, an unsuspecting traveler, check-in and they crawl into your luggage. These are the souvenirs you don’t want to bring home, so it is crucial to take preventative measures.
As soon as you check into a hostel, hotel, or Airbnb, you should examine the beds. Pull the covers back and take a close look at the mattress and sheets. Look in the nooks and crannies where they like to hide and see if there is any evidence of blood spots. If you notice anything, take your bags and leave! You should also inspect your own luggage as soon as you get home.
If it’s too late for preventative measures and you already have them, call a professional.
Because they have evolved so much and are excellent at hiding, they can be difficult to remove. When in a building, they can move from apartment to apartment, meaning an entire building may need to be fumigated if an infestation exists. Additionally, you will need to treat your furniture and mattress.
It’s incredible how something so small can have such an effect! Dust mite allergies are pretty common, with roughly 20 million Americans having them. These little critters are so small that you aren’t able to see them with your naked eye. Under 0.4 mm in length, you would need a microscope to find them. They are also translucent or light white in color.
Though we talk about dust mites like insects (maybe because they “bug” so many of us), they are technically arachnid. They have eight legs and are a distant relative to spiders. Unlike bed bugs, they don’t bite. Therefore, they are not considered parasites and instead enjoy a solid meal of “dander.” Dander consists of dry skin and skin flakes in your sheets.
The problem with dust mites is they are big allergy triggers. Their bodies, secretions, and fecal matter can cause severe allergic reactions, worsen sleep apnea, cause asthma attacks and wheezing.
The life span of a dust mite is much shorter as well. They only live up to 2 months, but their lifespan can be cut significantly shorter with proper bedding and regular washing. Though it is challenging to avoid dust mites entirely, you can dramatically minimize your exposure and reduce allergic reactions.
First, look at your bedding. Certain fabrics and materials are better for allergies than others. For example, a millet pillow with a woven cotton pillowcase will help prevent them from getting into your pillow. Pillow covers made from tightly woven fabric are best as they prevent dust mites from colonizing. The filling, 100% organic millet hulls, is also dust mite resistant and hypoallergenic. Because dust mite allergies are respiratory, having a pillow like a millet pillow is critical to prevent them.
The sheets you use are also important! A Tencel sheet set is made from extra breathable and moisture-wicking fabric, meaning you won’t have a warm, dander-rich environment for dust mites to thrive. Keeping moisture and humidity down is crucial for reducing dust mite allergies.
Additionally, you should ensure you are washing bedding regularly as well as dusting and vacuuming. Curtains, carpets, and throw pillows may not be tossed in the wash as often, so they can become home base for dust mites if they aren’t cleaned.
If you have pets, there is another bug that could join you and your furry friend in bed – fleas! Both dogs and cats can bring fleas into your home from other animals or your backyard. Typically fleas prefer four-legged hosts, but they are still not something you want in your home.
Fleas are larger than dust mites but smaller than bug beds at about 2.5 mm. They jump and move quickly, though, so they can be challenging to spot. Like dust mites, they also thrive in humid conditions and can live up to 21 days. When fleas are brought into your home, your home is said to become “the nursery.” Estimates suggest that just 5% of an infestation will exist on your pet – the remaining 95% is in your home.
Quickly eggs, larvae, and cocoons will be spread around your home, including your bedding. In addition to being a nuisance and causing your pet to scratch, fleas can carry diseases. Like bed bugs, they are considered a parasite, and though rare, they can carry flea-borne diseases like typhus and bubonic plague. This means you should act quickly if your notice fleas! To remove them, you must address the ones on your pet as well as your home.
Some topical treatments and medications can eliminate and prevent fleas from calling your pet dinner. However, it would be best if you spoke to your vet for options. You must wash all your bedding (including your meditation cushions, pillow covers, and Tencel sheet set) to address your home. For persistent infestations, you can also contact a professional. Some sprays and foggers can reach places like floorboards and baseboards where they may hide.
No one wants bugs between their sheets, but it can happen to all of us. Fortunately, you can reduce your risk of dealing with these pesky bugs by taking preventative measures, using hypoallergenic bedding like a millet pillow, and regularly washing bedding. And if you do notice something – act quickly. Within a week, a mild issue can turn into a severe infestation where professional intervention is needed.