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How do you treat chigger bites?


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

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-2Chigger 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!

32 Comments on How do you treat chigger bites?

  1. I stopped the itching, not the chiggers all I did was run warm to hot water on the area and it worked

  2. Chieggerex from Walgreens works great. Only have a few bites, but they are enough to wake you up in the middle of the night with intense itching!

  3. After bite stick from the chemist is a good solution to the problem.

  4. I heard that Absorbine Jr works for chigger bites. They say it burns badly when you first apply it, but after that no more itching!! You might be able to get it at Walgreens or Rite Aid.

  5. Soak in tub of water with Epson salt, baking soda, and a few drops of essential lemon oil. Then using cotton ball, drop of lemon oil applied, dab on rash. Worked for me.

  6. Happy Harry // August 11, 2016 at 8:16 am // Reply

    Acetone. When I scratch them slightly open, I soak it with acetone for a minute or 2. Never itches again. Acetone is finger nail polish remover.

    • How long did you soak and did you soak in cold water or hot

    • I am cover all over from these Red Devils. Even have huge knots on my buttocks. Some have come infected and have drainage. I have took rubbing alcohol and rub my whole body down. Gave some relief for short period. Not sleeping at night tormented. Will soaking in a tub of water with Epsom salt work or what about Clorox in a tub of water? Does the water need to be hot or cold

  7. I have tried anything from anti itch cream but that won’t work I tried aloe Vera that used to help but now I have no idea how to get rid of them

  8. Wasmiserable. // August 7, 2016 at 10:18 pm // Reply

    Do not bath in hot or warm water.
    Cold water stopped the itching temporarily.

  9. Got these ‘bites’ over a week ago. Some places are as big as a dime, some small but all itch INSANELY bad! Thought they were mosquito bites initially. But realize now they are not. WHAT is the best thing to stop the itching, I am loosing sleep?

  10. Benzocaine 10 percent helps

  11. Deerhunter // August 5, 2016 at 7:46 am // Reply

    Biofreeze!roll on..

  12. Try pepto bismal. No joke
    Think about digestive enzymes dab on with cotton ball

  13. Just soak a cotton ball with alcohol and rub it over the affected area. It really works.

  14. Sulfur dust to prevent on shoes and pants.jewel weed juice for relief

  15. Chigger bitten // July 29, 2016 at 2:51 am // Reply

    Yikes. I can’t get rid of them. Do they live in doors? And if so how do I get rid of them?

  16. I tried everything blue star ointment, triple antibiotic ointment, Benadryl, oatmeal bath, hydrocortisone, prednisone, hydroxyzine, calamine lotion, clear nail polish nothing worked. I tried Vicks vapor rub and salt finally no itching.

    • I got chiggers last summer and tried all the over the counter products. I got them again this summer and saw the Vicks and Salt concoction on another site. Finally some relief from the intense itching!! Best homemade remedy out there!

  17. Mouth wash especially Listerine, pour it over bites in the tub, and less scary than bleach

  18. Neosporene helps the itch for me.

  19. How long do they last? I need them gone.

    • I’ve had them three times since moving to Idaho a year ago. I’m only bite at dark and if I stand in one stop on out property, happen on our
      drive way twice and then in our weeds which was mowed the day before. They last for four weeks I’ve tried everything, so I don’t go out at dark and wear flip flops 24/7
      Good luck


  21. Don't do it // July 5, 2016 at 9:48 pm // Reply

    Put Clorox all over it helps then put alcohol on and make a spark

  22. I have chigger bites and I need relief I was camping and I was playing football and I was in the grass. I have them in my armpit and on the side of my hips and lungs. Please some one help me.

  23. how long do red bugs last

    • nail polish really does work, if you leave it on for a while and sleep with it on and just keep putting it on until it’s better

  24. Please listen very closely.Chiggarid.Walgreens pharmacy.I have horrible scars from these creatures.This is the only relief I have found.

  25. The best thing for the bumps is to cleanse the skin to get as much of their secretion gone as possible, which is what is making you itch. Hybacleanse is the best anti-bacteria soap out there. Wash 2x a day with it for up to 3 days. Also, exfoliating the dead skin is good on the third day.

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