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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 chiggers 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!

19 Comments on How Do You Treat Chigger Bites?

  1. My guys swear by Calamine lotion, the pink stuff. Worked better then all the other remedies they tried.

  2. Turmeric works great. Even just dusting on some of the culinary stuff from trader joes.

  3. Had them once really bad had no idea what they were as I live in the north and had never seen nor heard of them my doctor recommended kwell!!!Killed them on contact and no more itch.

  4. Witch Hazel! It is sold in a bottle and is also the active ingredient in Preparation H. Witch hazel on a cotton ball immediately calms the itch and helps speed up the healing process.

  5. Help Me !!!!!! // March 7, 2017 at 6:01 am // Reply

    I’m tired of this crap !!!!

  6. Help Me !!!!!! // March 6, 2017 at 10:04 pm // Reply

    I don’t know what this is the doctor told me that no one can catch it but my mother called it and she’s 90 years old I am so pissed at the doctor now I’m here trying to save everybody in the house if anyone knows anything I could do please write and tell me

  7. I use CHIGGEREX after they get me and “OFF” to help keep them off. Both seem to work.

  8. I had them all around my waist. I applied a OTC products made to get rid of them, much like fingernail polish. A friend applied it to places I couldn’t reach. When it dried I discovered that I had glued my underwear to my skin all around my waist! Ouch! It sure got rid of the red bugs along with patches of my skin! 😀

  9. chigger eaten // October 21, 2016 at 7:52 am // Reply

    just got some! uggg… really itchy. does the clear polish really work?

  10. nobugsallowed // October 19, 2016 at 7:30 am // Reply

    i think they are coming in on my dogs and then they are laying on furniture and beds and i found them in my bed…is there anything safe for the dogs to use as a preventative?

  11. I have made a homemade spray. It really works! Use 1 gal. of distilled water or boil 1 gal. of tap water for 5 minutes. Add 8 tsp of table salt. Mix solution well until salt is dissolved. Add 1 Tbl spoon of household bleach and mix well before using. This solution can be stored for 1 month at room temperature. (Be sure storage container and mixing utensils are clean and sterile).

  12. Use SULFER. They leave within a few hours after applying it.

  13. I have been putting alot of rubbing alcohol (90 proof) and has helped to dry the spots which stopped most of the itching.never had them in my life.

  14. I have them in my back yard woods. We scrape them off with green pads in the shower right after going in the woods. Then we put on young living thieves oil and lavendar to stop the itch each day. Takes a few days for the bites to go away.

  15. Chigger Infested Texan // September 7, 2016 at 6:31 pm // Reply

    The clear fingernail polish for sure stops the itch!! I’ve used Benadryl cream, Allegra cream, Benadryl orally and I have literally clawed my skin into infection. I put the nail polish on every bite and BAM, it stopped the itch. When I shower and the polish comes off, the itch is back. I really the polish and the itch stops until my next shower. I highly recommend the polish to stop the itch, just to keep your sanity

  16. Milk of magnesia!!

  17. had them 4 times..ugh this last time was awful..liquid bandage helps a lot if you touch up every bite but turns white and crusty.. pain to get off..also believe it or not the best relief is windex with ammonia..put it in a fine spray bottle and every time they itch spray the area .. really helps..sounds insane but works the best out of anything ive tried and ive tried them all.

  18. augh!! why dosent itch cream work?!

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