Can Bed Bug Bites Damage Your Skin?

Most bug bites and insect stings cause temporary lumps, bumps, and discoloration.  Markings left by wasps, ants, and mosquitoes can be unsightly, but will usually fade in a matter of days.  Unfortunately, bed bug bites are more medically serious.  Bites from bed bugs can cause lasting skin damage in the form of permanent scarring or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), a condition which is particularly pronounced in bite victims with darker skin tones.  In this article, our apartment bed bug lawyers will explain how bed bugs cause PIH and scarring.

What is Hyperpigmentation?

The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD) describes hyperpigmentation as a common medical condition “in which patches of skin become darker in color than the normal surrounding skin.”  (If you have freckles, you already have a form of hyperpigmentation.)  Hyperpigmentation is the opposite of vitiligo and albinism, which belong to a family of conditions known as hypopigmentation, or lightening of the skin.

Anyone can be affected by hyperpigmentation, regardless of factors like age or gender.  However, the condition is most common among individuals belonging to ethnic groups with darker skin tones.  (According to a July, 2010 study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, “Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation is a common sequelae of inflammatory dermatoses that tends to affect darker skinned patients with greater frequency and severity.”)

In May of 2013, the peer-reviewed Journal of Drugs in Dermatology  published a study titled “Treating Hyperpigmentation in Darker-Skinned Patients.”  The study surveyed 50 dermatologists, among whom “46 (92%) reported treating patients with darker skin,” including “Latino[s] (97.8%), African American[s] (97.8%), Middle Eastern[ers] (77.6%), and Asian[s] (88.9%).”  Among the dermatologists who participated in the study:

  • 36 reported that their patients experienced hyper-pigmentation under the eyes.
  • 40 reported that their patients experienced hyper-pigmentation on the neck.
  • 42 reported that their patients experienced hyper-pigmentation in the underarm area (axilla).

As the same study noted, “Hyper-pigmentation under the eyes, under the arms, or on the neck is a significant problem in darker-skinned patients that is refractory [resistant] to currently available treatments.”

How Bed Bug Bites Cause Scarring and Skin Darkening

PIH is caused by excessive production of melanin, the pigment which is responsible for dark skin, eyes, and hair.  Increased melanin production occurs when melanocytes, or melanin-producing cells, are stimulated.  Melanocytes can be stimulated by factors like prolonged sun exposure, hormonal fluctuations (e.g. chloasma or “pregnancy mask”), or skin inflammation – including skin inflammation resulting from bed bug bites.

As infestation victims already know from experience, bed bug bites can be intensely itchy.  Many bite victims simply cannot help constantly and aggressively scratching their bites, which can lead to conditions like cellulitis (skin inflammation) and/or folliculitis (inflammation of hair follicles on the scalp, groin, or underarms).  In turn, this inflammation can lead to PIH.  Constant scratching can also lead to skin scarification as infected bites gradually heal.

In January of 2011, Oxford medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases published a study titled “Bedbugs and Infectious Diseases,” which noted, “Lesions [from bed bug bites] resolve spontaneously within two to six weeks, but permanent postinflammatory hyperpigmentation may ensue.”  To emphasize: PIH can be a permanent condition.

Generic Mattress Bed Bugs 300x200 - Can Bed Bug Bites Damage Your Skin?

Effects of Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)

Hyperpigmentation is physically harmless.  However, many patients suffer from ongoing emotional distress due to the visible changes in their facial appearance.  Children and juveniles who develop scars or who suffer from PIH may be bullied and excluded by their peers at school or daycare, which can lead to depression and poor academic performance.  Teen and adult PIH patients may isolate themselves socially and shy away from fulfilling personal relationships, all because they are self-conscious about their skin.

The financial impact of PIH can also be devastating to victims.  As the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology study noted, most darker-skinned patients find that their PIH is resistant to medication, which means patients wind up wasting their money one expensive, ineffectual, disappointing skin care product after another.  Moreover, patients who suffer from depression or anxiety as a result of PIH or skin scarring may seek out counseling or psychotherapy, which only adds to the financial burden.

If you or someone you love is suffering from hyperpigmentation, scarring, or other skin conditions caused by bed bug bites, the hotel bed bug attorneys of Whitney, LLP may be able to help.  You may be entitled to compensation if you were bitten after staying at a hotel in Maryland or elsewhere, or if your apartment developed an infestation and your landlord failed to intervene.  Compensation can help cover medical expenses, property damage, and other damages.

To set up a free and completely private legal consultation, call our law offices right away at (410) 583-8000.  We will not disclose your information, and you will not be charged any fees for your consultation.


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