I do not want to be dealing with this!
November 15, 2012 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Does my hotel room have bed bugs?

I've been staying at a (decent) hotel for the past couple of nights. After the first night, I woke up with a rash on both of my hips -- but only where my underwear covered my skin (and my underwear was covered by the snug, tripled waistband of a pair of yoga pants). Though my immediate thought was "oh crap, bed bugs," it didn't make sense that they would only bite me in a location that a) was covered by two layers of snug clothing, and b) was mostly bone. I took a cursory look at the bed, couldn't see any signs of bugs.

Second night: I wake up in the middle of the night and my scalp really itches. I also have developed a rash on my shoulder, underneath the strap of my tank top. I finally fall back asleep. I woke up this morning and the backs of my knees really itched; I looked in the mirror and they appear to be covered in bug bites. The rash on my shoulder doesn't have any discrete bites, just all-over redness. My scalp still itches, but doesn't feel like it has any bites, just irritation. My left ear, which I was sleeping on, is itchy and inflamed. I have been scratching everything like mad, so it's hard to tell whether the irritation or the scratching came first.

I did a more thorough investigation of the bed -- looking all over the sheets for blood spots; lifting up the mattress and looking between it and the box spring; pulling back the sheets and mattress pad and unzipping the mattress cover to look at the seams of the mattress. Nothing, so far as I can see.

So. Evidence for bed bugs: itchiness, possible bug bites. Evidence against bed bugs: No visual sign of bed bugs. Bites/rashes are in places covered by clothing (there are none on my bare arms, for example) and my scalp.

Should I be freaking out more or less than I already am? Is it bugs other than bed bugs? An allergy to the detergent the hotel uses for the sheets? (When I woke up in the middle of the night I was also congested and sneezy.) Sudden allergy to my own detergent? (This seems unlikely, since I use the "free and clear" stuff that has no perfumes or dyes.) Hysteria? (Not out of the question, as far as I'm concerned; I have a tendency to somaticize anxiety.)

I can post photos of the backs of my knees if you're really curious. But I hope the answer is just "paranoia."
posted by pluckemin to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
Given what you've described, I would tend to think this is some kind of allergic reaction, or possibly signs of eczema.

Have a dermatologist check it out. IANAD...
posted by HuronBob at 9:24 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two things:

- this does seem more like an allergic reaction (maybe to the laundry soap as you posited) than an infestation.

- the one time I panicked wildly over bedbugs it turned out to be pityriasis rosea, a chickenpoxy-ish virus that itches awfully and gives you bitelike marks on your torso; if you have one slightly larger ringworm-like spot somewhere, this would be even more likely.
posted by elizardbits at 9:33 AM on November 15, 2012

Response by poster: I should add: I'm sharing the hotel room with a friend (who is sleeping in a separate bed), but I don't want to ask her whether she's been itching unless it seems possible that there really are bed bugs, because I don't want to freak her out unnecessarily.
posted by pluckemin at 9:41 AM on November 15, 2012

Freak her out. It'd be better to know, than not.
posted by sutt at 9:43 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Sounds like eczema or some sort of reaction to me too. Maybe you can get the hotel to wash your sheets in something hypoallergenic.

Note: I also used a 'free and clear' detergent, but unfortunately it had SLS (Sulfates). SLS of any kind will make me break out in a rash. I'm stuck using method, ecover, or arau for life and occasionally adding vinegar to washes to remove detergent completely.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:43 AM on November 15, 2012

When I had bed bugs they never bit me in places that were covered with clothes. I had to sleep in long sleeves, pants and gloves to help reduce the biting. I wouldn't rule out an allergy just yet. You said you use free and clear detergent but I'll bet the hotel doesn't. Maybe ask the front desk what they use?
posted by Nolechick11 at 9:44 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

You may be allergic to the detergent the hotel is using.

I broke out in a rash recently due to taking too much Ibuprofen.

Have you started taking any new drugs? Using new lotions or soaps (travel sizes)?

Go to a pharmacy and get some hydrocortisone cream and benedryl and see if it helps.

Buy anything that's going to touch your body in a non-scented, sensitive skin formula.

Do ask your friend if she's itching too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:44 AM on November 15, 2012

Just saw the update. If this is a case of bugs she might not notice anything. Before I figured out what was biting me I woke up one morning to 10+ new bites. My boyfriend, who was sleeping right next to me, had nothing.
posted by Nolechick11 at 9:48 AM on November 15, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, I texted my friend, and she reports no itching. So allergy or insanity it is! (On preview: or this doesn't prove anything?)
posted by pluckemin at 9:50 AM on November 15, 2012

Bed bug bites typically have a three-in-a-row pattern. Yours sound not that organized. And under-clothes biting is just.. weird. I'd guess allergy.

Also, bed bugs can hide lots of places: cracks in drawers, electrical outlets, crevices in bed frames, et cetera. It doesn't hurt to look, but if you're going to, you need to be REALLY thorough or there's not much point.
posted by curious nu at 10:01 AM on November 15, 2012

Yeah, this doesn't sound like bed bugs to me. It sounds like an allergic reaction to something in the bed, or a systemic allergic reaction to a medication. Ask the hotel what kind of detergent they use and ask them if they can provide new sheets & blankets that are washed in something hypoallergenic. Seconding the question: have you taken any new medications or supplements lately?
posted by bedhead at 10:03 AM on November 15, 2012

I would suspect you are allergic to their laundry detergent, OR since this is happening under your clothes, your own laundry detergent, OR their soap. This does not sounds like bed bugs, in other words.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:04 AM on November 15, 2012

Under-clothes sounds more like fleas to me.
posted by BrashTech at 10:36 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Scabies? The don't affect your scalp, but under waistbands, behind knees and shoulders are prime spots for them.
posted by looli at 11:15 AM on November 15, 2012

This happened to my husband before we replaced our ten year old mattress. I suspected he was having an allergic reaction to a buildup of dust mites or other nasty stuff in the mattress.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:43 AM on November 15, 2012

This doesn't sound like bed bugs.

Chiggers are drawn to snugly clothed parts of the body, which was my first thought when I read your question. Had you been sitting or standing around on grass sometime before the first night of itching? You could have stumbled onto a chiggers hotspot and brought some into your room with you.
posted by Brody's chum at 11:44 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bed bug bites are, well, bites. Very often in groups of at least three, commonly referred to as "breakfast, lunch and dinner". If there are a lot of bugs you might see a large number of bites, though, which could look like a rash, but they will still resemble a collection of individual bite marks surrounded by a round, red blotch (itself basically an allergic reaction, which some people don't actually get). Also, they generally either don't itch (those lucky few who don't notice them) or ITCH LIKE GOD HIMSELF IS TRYING TO GET YOUR ATTENTION.
posted by dhartung at 11:53 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If not an internalized anxiety-somatic rash, maybe heat rash. It will sometimes have small pin point bumps.

Also the changing seasons and having the heat going will really dry out the air, and thusly skin. If a trip to the dermatologist needs to be put off for a few days, try some hydrocortisone lotion. And shorter cooler showers for the scalp.
posted by fontophilic at 12:19 PM on November 15, 2012

I don't think anybody has suggested that maybe the air in the hotel room is a whole lot dryer than you are used to and it has dried out your skin, and caused itchies. Just a thought.
posted by molasses at 12:21 PM on November 15, 2012

nthing that this is really unlikely to be bed bugs. They will preferentially bite exposed skin, and you would _definitely_ have bites on your exposed arms/hands if there were bed bugs, most likely in groups of two or three. In my experience they very seldom, if ever, bite scalp either. I guess allergic reactions could vary but there should also be very clear / discrete bites, somewhat on the large side, rather than just continuous itchy areas. Unless the infestation were massive (very unlikely, given unscathed arms), there also probably won't be lots of bites concentrated in a specific area (i.e. on the backs of your knees), these are more likely hives of some kind.
posted by advil at 12:54 PM on November 15, 2012

I was going to suggest exactly what Ruthless Bunny did, and also echo bedhead's advice. Please try taking Benadryl, to see if it might be an allergic reaction, and try hydrocortizone cream on the rash.

Echoing the questions about any new medication, and you are using your own regular soap and shampoo and lotion, not the hotel's or some travel stuff, correct?

Also, even if you are using a free and clear detergent at home, there may still be an ingredient that can cause an allergic reaction, and it is possible to develop allergies at any time. (Also companies change their formulas sometimes.) Here's a detergent chart to consult just in case.
posted by gudrun at 1:14 PM on November 15, 2012

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