Wilderness First Aid Q&A

How do you treat chigger bites?



Q: What are red bugs and how do you treat them?

A: Red bugs, chiggers, berry bugs, scrub-itch mites and harvest mites are all terms used to describe members of the family of insects known as Trombiculidae. These reddish-orange mites can be found worldwide, but they really enjoy hanging out in damp, grassy and wooded areas, especially at the edges of forests. In the United States, chiggers are mostly found in the southeast, south and midwest. They are most active from early spring to early autumn, until the first frost.

Chigger larvae might infest humans by crawling up our shoes and legs as we make our way through the scrub. What’s kind of cool is that they do not actually bite us. Likewise, they do not burrow into our skin, and they do not suck our blood. Instead, chiggers use their mouths to drill tiny holes into our skin through which they secrete specialized salivary enzymes designed to break down our skin cells from the inside. Then, they slurp up the mixture through a tube formed by hardened skin cells called a stylosome. Basically, it’s like drinking a big “YOU” protein shake!

Your skin does not take too kindly to all of this drilling and parasitic digestion. Consequently, humans typically develop intensely itchy, bright red pimple-like bumps or hives or a generalized skin rash in the areas where the mites were attached, even up to 24 to 48 hours after exposure. Chiggers prefer to attach to skin at areas where the clothing fits tightly against the body, such as at the tops of socks or around the elastic edges of underwear, so a rash in these areas may be a clue to the specific cause.

So, what can you do for a chigger rash? First, forget the old myth of applying fingernail polish to the affected areas. Chiggers do NOT burrow into the skin, so trying to suffocate the mites with polish makes no sense at all. Second, chiggers do not lay eggs in the skin, so stop worrying about that.

Chigger wounds are a complex mixture of mechanical damage to the skin (the drilling), enzymatic disruption of the skin (the digestion), and your body’s own attempt to get rid of the parasite. Consequently, the most important thing to do is to prevent chigger infestation. Avoid camping in warm, moist temperate climates of high mammal density, including livestock pastures, natural parks and preserves.

If the area is infested, get out of there quickly and wash your skin vigorously with soap and water. Itching is best alleviated through the use of topical corticosteroids (either over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1% ointment or prescription strength from your physician) and anti-histamines like Benadryl. Watch out for severe rashes that can become secondarily infected with bacteria; in these cases, consult a doctor immediately.

Now you know a “mitey” bit more about chiggers than you did before!

Comments about “How do you treat chigger bites?”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I have red bug bites and I do not like them how do I get rid of them

  2. ChiggaChiggaYeahYeah says:

    Those chiggaz got me so bad I wuz perscribed antibiotics.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I was at summer camp and I got 70 chigger bites on my stomach. I still have scars from itching them

  4. keith says:

    I think I have an infestation of chiggers….itches bad and bumps are very uncomfortable

  5. Itchy too says:

    Clorox on a q-tip helps. Bug spray applied before exposure helps. Take a scrubby hot shower with soap immediately after coming inside will prevent many of the crawling critters from attaching. Chiggerex works for the itching.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Just got chigger bites about a week ago, bout ready to scratch my ankles off. Read about Vicks rub and salt. It totally works.
    Mix together Vicks rub or any generic mentholatum ointment and ordinary salt until the salt is well in the ointment. Dab or spread over all the bites making sure to have salt granules on each bite. the menthol feels cool and the salt (to me) helps dry them up and stop itching!

  7. Feisty says:

    I got chiggers bad one year camping and on the way home we stopped at a hotel….we got in the pool and the chlorine killed them dead!

  8. itchy says:

    Anti-itch lotion works great :-)

  9. old timer says:

    To keep them from biting in the first place, apply some Vick’s Vapor Rub on your legs and ankles before you go out.

  10. Dad says:

    An old trick to avoid getting chiggers, is apply a light dusting of powdered sulfur (Walgreens) in your socks or shoes before going out in woods. Remembering this trick is the next problem.

  11. Gypsy Rae says:

    I have more than 50 chigger bites on my chest, shoulders, and back. I thought they were mosquito bites, but when Hydrocortisone wasn’t working, my mom said it might be chiggers. I showered in warm water (heavenly relief for the intense itch), and have applied calamine. Tomorrow, I think I will try bathing in baking soda water.

  12. butch says:

    To avoid the monsters, wear long pants and tuck them into your boots when working outside. If you do get them, take a bath in a weak bleach solution to kill them. Then use cortizone cram on the affected areas.

  13. wanddrama says:

    aloe vera works great

  14. big fergie says:

    Try mint flavored mouthwash. It works and smells minty fresh, but sticky to the touch.

  15. country girl says:

    I have tried a little of everything and decided to use a tea bag. My mom always used tea bags for everything. Well, it worked! The itching stopped and the redness started to fade. I just made tea for me. Then used the warm tea bag on my worst spots. I only held it on the bite for a minute or two. Hope this helps.

  16. jojo21381 says:

    Use to get chigger bites regularly. Best thing I found was clear nail polish. Because once places are painted u can see the little dot. After places dry scratch off the nail polish and bug with it.

    • Anonymous says:

      Did you read the article. It said bugs did not burrow. I thought the same. I could not understand why the nail polish was not working. Then I found this article, now I know why its not working.

  17. In the Scratch of time says:

    Try using Avon Skin So Soft, Original Scent. We have used the oil version and it cuts down ALL bug interaction. It also helps dogs with their itchy hot spots.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Finger nail polish works better than anything else it is not just a myth !!!

  19. Cj says:

    Take a long bath in Epsom Salt!

  20. redbugdead says:

    Hairspray gets rid of them but burns real bad

  21. Chigger magnet says:

    I’ve been fighting this for years. Nail polish doesn’t help much, joint meds like icy hot works pretty well, preparation H helps. I also have tubes of cortisone cream within reach at all times. I really just want to know how to avoid the bites because there is really nothing that instantly cures the itch. I’ve tried it all. I ant even step into grass I have to stay on sidewalks at all times. Why me?

    • Scout Mom says:

      For a good chigger repellent, get sulfur at Vitamin Shoppe (call ahead for Walgreen’s or CVS — they may not carry). Sprinkle sulfur liberally inside socks and shoes and on your legs.

    • noname says:

      Have you ever had an allergy test? Sounds like you may be experiencing an allergic reaction to grass.

  22. Itchy says:

    I was cutting tree limbs in my back yard and felt something biting me but thought nothing of it, now that I’m reading this website I understand what it was. It itches like crazy. Scratch scratch scratch!!!! Thanx for info. Itchy

  23. Itchy says:

    There’s a liquid benedryl and also a spray that works pretty well.

  24. ni says:

    clear nail polish works great

  25. tackman says:

    If they get on your dogs and in the house how do u treat them?

    • txgal says:

      Well,,, I was cleaning a yard that hadn’t been kept up with ln a while when I contacted the villians, and I soaked in epsomes salt and used lotion with tea tree oil mixed in it, also I put a blow dryer on the bites on the hot setting and it felt great and dried them up quick! Not recommended for young children.

    • Anonymous says:

      I would like to know the same thing. My lap dog lays all over me. Also, how long do the bite spots stay itchy?

  26. Hailey says:

    wow that is alot of work

  27. Walkin in the woods says:

    Benadryl works ok but it makes me sleepy. I rub deodorant/ antiperspirant on the itch. It takes the edge off :)

  28. very itchey says:

    Thanks for the info

  29. Anonymous says:

    Red bugs are orange

  30. itchy princess says:

    i slept over to my sister’s house who has a cat and I am itching like crazy because she let the cat out side and ut came back in with flees and other stuff so now I have flee bites and other itchy red bites that itch and hurt and they also made my ankles swollen.

  31. Gotbit! says:

    My doctor (allergist) thought they were spider bites but when my daughter got them around her waistband also a few days later I knew it was something else. We have used the maximum strength hydrocortisone crème with a bandaid over to keep the crème in place. This has helped some but I am trying some of these other remedies. Thanks!

  32. Kell says:

    Scratch the scale off and put fingernail polish or spray whith hair spray

  33. dee says:

    hmmm i might have chiggers need to thry this tea tree oil, lavender oil and cedarwood oil or euclyptus oil. lol

  34. ... says:

    Tooth paste actually does help!!!

  35. Hiker Fanatic says:

    Prevention is the key. Powder sulfur on shoes, socks and pants. Along with insect repellent liberally sprayed all over your body. Once out of the woods hot shower vigorously scrubbing every inch of your anatomy with soap and repeat. Immediately wash clothes in HOT water. Do this regimen every time your in the woods and it can save days of misery.

  36. Bob says:

    I take extremely hot showers – pat your body dry – then swab the bites with rubbing alcohol. Repeat in 12 hours. Do this for 2 or 3 days. When the hot showers stop giving feelings in the bite areas, the bites should heal. Be prepared for the bites to look bad for up to 3 weeks.

  37. DieChiggers! says:

    I’m suffering from chigger bites. The only thing that stops the intense itching is something very simple: toothpaste. I don’t know why, but it works. Hope this tip helps someone else.

  38. bbite pain says:

    I did not know it was chiggers. I thought bed bugs. mite infection.
    Mostly I had never felt anything like it since chickenpox.

  39. Angie says:

    Baking soda baths help neutralize the sting of them as well. I took 4 tbsp baking soda and 4 tbsp cornstarch and whisked it into coconut oil (in its liquid state- warm) , then put it in fridge a while to turn solid. Rub that on bites and it works! Great relief… I later added a drop of tea tree oil — even better!!! Use powdered sulfer from garden center dusted on shoes and socks to prevent them

  40. concern mom says:

    where do you buy all these oils? I purchased some teatree oil and have been using it on my daughters hair to eliminate lice. Now we need your help on where to buy the other four oils. Thank.

  41. itchy-scratchy says:

    Neem oil diluted in hot water. Let the water cool down.Then add cedarwood oil, eucalyptus oil, teatree oil and lavender oil. Put it all in a spray bottle and spray on yourself. If the cedarwood oil doesnt kill it then neem oil will make it lose Interest in food, mating and it’ll die of starvation! Goodluck!

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