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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!

29 Comments on How do you treat chigger bites?

  1. Chigger hater in FL // June 18, 2016 at 3:26 am // Reply

    I’ve been itching for over two weeks. It is miserable. Tried so many things that did not work. The best relief I get is taking benadryl, soaking in Epsom salt bath and applying witch hazel every few hours. I’m going to Dr. to get Rx creme and possibly steroids because the itching is so intense. Also, the welts are still huge, it has been 16 days since the itching started. I am in North Florida Gainesville area. I got them in swampy area by the river.

  2. Anyone heard of putting WD-40 on the bites? Supposedly QD-40 is fish oil? Soakes in the skin and helps.. Didn’t try it but kinda made sense.

  3. Some of you should pause for a moment before commenting and read the article. It prevents you from posting advice that the article demonstrates to be nonsense. Also prevents you from looking foolish. Temporarily.

  4. Can chiggerex or calaclear be applied in groin area

  5. PepperCake // June 10, 2016 at 8:09 am // Reply

    I had chigger bites for 3 days putting benadril cream on it – didn’t work. So I went back to a childhood remedy of putting nail polish on the bites. The next day they were 70% gone. My husband couldn’t believe it. The swelling and redness gone.

  6. bleach applied to the area with cotton ball, let sit for a few minutes.
    Also, Benadryl makes a “Children’s Itch Cooling Gel” that works superbly to cur the itch. I use it all the time for itches, and I’m over 60. I guess they call it “Children’s” sot that it is obviously safe for all.
    Get stuff and hard to keep in the drugstore shelves cause it is so effective. So I order it online!

  7. Vinegar and baking soda paste. Apply

  8. Slick Rick // May 22, 2016 at 10:00 pm // Reply

    Anti-itch 2% at Family Dollar and After-Bite stick at local Walgreens will help. Yes they are annoying….I live in Georgia and seem to get bit everyday.

  9. Hope this help // May 15, 2016 at 8:28 pm // Reply

    Put clear nail polish on the red spot 3 time a day for 2 day and 2 time a day after that it going away I get them 2to3 time a year

  10. Get you some lye soap it’s the best

  11. One cap of bleach in bath tub and submerge in mixture

  12. Was itching so bad every time I moved. Then I put vaporizing ointment on all my bites 😃now I don’t itch just smell. I can now heal. Chiggers were in my climbing roses which are on my front porch railing.

  13. Nail polish does not smother them since they don’t attach to you. By the time you feel the itch they have fallen off and moved on. You just have to relieve the itch and treat for possible infection.

  14. Then why in Kenya the people have very big ones & could get infection & die

  15. Nail polish, it smothers them, I promise it works.

  16. Try deodorant on you chigger bites while in the woods! It stops the itch instantly but it comes back…

  17. I’m thinking I have either chiggers or bird mites..How do you kill them?

  18. Soak in pinesoil for 30 minutes

  19. My child has bites on him he was in the woods could it be red bugs

  20. Jeff me name is // November 6, 2015 at 9:34 pm // Reply

    Chigger bites are very annoying

  21. Kentucky girl // October 15, 2015 at 4:31 pm // Reply

    There is an awesome product available at most pharmacies. I found mine at Wal-Mart. It’s called Chiggerex. It contains aloe and chamomile to soothe irritated skin and it also contains Benzocaine to help temporarily numb the awful itch. This stuff also works on a number of other pesky & itchy insect bites.

  22. Try witch hazel gel

  23. I used witch hazel on bites took inflammation and itch out

  24. I need to know how to make the itch stop when you are bit by a red bug. Please reply back.

  25. Pinkandblavki // September 24, 2015 at 3:02 pm // Reply

    I have chigger bites I need help???

    • Rub a lemon on the bites it will stop the itch for about 12 hours, sorry to say it will come back , but just get another lemon for another 12 hours of relief , hope this helps

    • I’ve tryed everything under the sun. Now someone told me about calaclear loction been using for the third day it’s a pain 3 to 4 times aday. I do have like holes in my leg (burrows). Ugly, the itching stoped, hope it workes. Other than that I hope this helps the both of us. One last thing it stoped itching waiting to heal. I hate red bugs.

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