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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!

154 Comments on How do you treat chigger bites?

  1. Lighter fluid

  2. southcamper // April 27, 2015 at 6:16 pm // Reply

    I guess I have to deal with chiggers. Since where I live the humidity is either 100, 99, or in the winter 98. Also on a cool day it’s only 86 degrees out. :/

  3. My son gets them all the time and the nail polish really helps take his itching and swelling away!

  4. Fingernail polish has never worked for me personally nor my family. However, what has worked to alieve the itching is a product called, After Bite. It comes in a slender hard tube. It’s main ingredient of only two is, ammonia. Try applying before you scratch the area and it becomes exposed. It will sting a little if so.
    This has worked for us and those darn things LOVE us!

  5. Triple antibiotic cream and they’re gone in 3 days, fingernail polish will sting if the skin has been scratched,

  6. My 5 year old daughter has them what’s safe

  7. TaylorSwiftie // March 25, 2015 at 9:29 pm // Reply

    I used alcohol and it’s gone! After about 2-4 days or more. BY THE WAY nail polish remover works too. ( it has alcohol.) Also if you do use alcohol imedietly was it with cool water. This may sting but oh, it kills chiggers alright

  8. gasoilne

  9. cup of bleach in your bath water works wonders…

  10. I ran a tree service for 11 years .I found that kerosene works well but you need to wash with dish detergent or something like shortly after

  11. Appreciate your article but I want to know – how long does this itch last? Do they bite just once & then fall off or have they “camped out” for a while? I have scratched sores on my body! Also, does wearing an insect spray (such as Off) help deter the bugs before they get on you?

  12. Thank you – very informative. Saved me from the finger nail polish – I was ready to try it.

  13. I found taking a bleach bath works really well

  14. I have been bitten by a red bug with a flat back and it looks like it has a little black spots not to sure though but the bites looked similar to mosquito bites then it spread I was in bed and it happened around 5 am not sure if it’s this chiggers bug or a bed bug if so how do they get in how do you get rid of them???? So far I saw only two.

  15. I used apple cider vintages. It buns at first but stopped the itch.

  16. actually I have used regular apple cider vinegar seemed to work for me relieved the itching

  17. muratic acid gets em’ GUARATEED !!!!!
    may leave a permanent scar.

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