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. ghostGuy says:

    hot shower and goldbond cream have helped
    also change your clothes in case they are on or in your socks , pants, etc

  2. Granny J says:

    I squeeze the bites and apply neat tea tree oil,usually works.

  3. Hoss says:

    Ammonia stops the stinging and itching immediately.
    Works on wasp,bee,yellow jacket,fly, mosquito,chigger,tic,flea, etc…..
    Learned this from a man that mows/bush-hogs transmission line right of ways.
    A man in contact with Millions of Biteing Insects Daily.

  4. halfpint says:

    ok did the Clorox bath not shower with the scrubby and put vicks vapor rub on all the chigger bumps I have finally found relief for itching tried the Benadryl cream only helps for a few minutes thank you just me

  5. Montana Grandma says:

    Thought the bugs were limited to southern states..not so! Got four bites and spent four miserable days until I found this on the internet. Can function again and thanks to all who described effective treatment!

  6. Heerzjohnny says:

    This is gonna sound crazy and off the wall, but Preparation H works unbelievably!!! Not only did it kill the itch, but it killed the welts to little red dots for a day and cleared out to dry skin. Like I said, sounds crazy, but talking from experience when all hotel had to offer.

  7. kwe says:

    Bathe (not shower) in suddsy bath, scrub with abrasive side of wash cloth, dry, & treat bites with Calodryll lotion or Ivarest Medicated Cream. Try to resist scratching…

  8. helper says:

    my son works outdoors in wooded and grassy areas got chiggrers, take luke warm shower and wash well, then put baking soda on all bites let sit a bit then rinse. Should be cool on bite marks and takes away itching.

  9. Tina says:

    I have a bunch around ankles and washed with a finger nail brush with hot hot water and dawn dish soap and then put nix head lice shampoo for ten minutes already got relief will see if it last all night

  10. Sue says:

    So Im pretty positive I have chiggers, and my brother told me to take a bleach bath and that will help well the next day I woke up and had this little bumps all over my fourhead and aroundy jaw line and nose? Is this from the bleach, maybe a delayed reaction or do you get a rash sometimes from the chiggers?

    • shaman5 says:

      Why are you putting bleach on your skin? Those red bumps were probably a chemical burn. Bleach can be very harmful if it comes into contact with your skin, so you probably wouldn’t want to bathe in it!

  11. florida surveyor says:

    I work in the woods all the time. The only thing that I’ve had any luck with is washing the area with sudsy ammonia and leave it on for a couple of minutes. You must do this outside or the smell will mess you up.

    Trust me, after working outdoors for more than 30 years, I’ve tried everything. This works

  12. it reay buys says:

    White vingear

  13. Lavender says:

    I’ve seen sites where it recommends nail polish to prevent yourself from scratching, so it’s still a good idea.

  14. anastazia says:

    Scrub your legs with a rough towel that you exfoliate your skin with in a tub of shallow water and bleach it worked for me then apply some itch cream for extra relief those little mf’s were gone two days later.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Ahhh!!! Can’t stop scratching!!! Tried it all…

  16. Deadeye_RS says:

    This seems to work to prevent getting them on you in the first place. Take dryer sheets, rub them on your socks and pant-legs, then stick the sheets in your shoes before you put them on.

  17. Sweetie says:

    Lye soap helps immediately

  18. Karen says:

    I’ve been itching like crazy, and I’m from Mississippi, where the red bugs are bad!! I’ve bathed in bleach, used every itching cream imaginable, and nothing has worked!! I keep having new bites come up every day!! Help!!!

    • Itch says:

      Just camped in Mississippi, Red Bugs/chiggers what ever you want to call them..Bites all over areas that I want go into detail. Like Karen I get new ones even after bathing, scrubbing areas, etc. Why are new red bumps popping up? Are these bugs still on me somewhere? I don’t see them? What’s going on? I’m so stinging, itching, painful hurting miserable. Help!

    • mississippi boy says:

      Try Blue Star Ointment. It really works

  19. injun says:

    I have the chiggers, got them from picking black berries on vacation in Tenn . Nothing works been six days.

  20. chigger says:

    went to the dr. he gave the premetherin cream…maybe I need to go back for seconds!

  21. kim says:

    Nothing works !Just wait it out!

  22. Anonymous says:

    Yea just saying the finger nail polish doesn’t work I had chiggeers and it
    Didn’t work but rubbing alcohol works!!!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Besides washing with soap and water what is the best way to ensure one is completely rid of the chiggers?

  24. Country boy 3:16 says:

    Rubbing alcohol works with a day

  25. The Caretaker says:

    Epsom Salt Bath

  26. noodle says:

    I heard it helps to pee on the little critters….

  27. Anonymous says:

    I had a bump on my leg awhile ago and it looked like a really bad pimple so I didn’t think much about it but it hurt and the skin was hardened around it. Then a week ago I got the same bump on my hip. Puss and blood came out when I accidentally scratched it. It hurts a lot! But it’s going away. Now that I know how they start off I think I’m developing a 3rd and 4th bump on my left leg. In the center of them all it’s a tiny hole.. What could it be?

  28. barbiedoll says:

    I was looking for information for my dogs. Have been bathing them in the Shampoo required to get rid of mites, fleas, ticks and biting lice even took pets to vet to see if he could figure out what was going on neither of us thought about red bugs! While looking them over one more time I saw the tiny red dots that mean “red bugs” is there anything I can give them to help with the itching??? My dog is pulling out her hair to get to them! help

    • Catwoman says:

      Have you tried original Dawn dish soap? That’s what I have always used to bathe my dog. It controls ticks, and just might work for your situation as well; also keeps her coat beautiful and shiny.

  29. leen says:

    Rubbing alcohol does the trick.

  30. Gardener says:

    Being in the yard is what I love but the chiggers keep me from my passion. They are the most miserable bites and take at least a week to completely stop itching and then they still leave a bruise-like spot. Benadryl stick helps the itching but has to be applied every few hours. I have yet to find a spray to rid my garden of them. Has anyone found anything that works but doesn’t kill plants and flowers. Oh, and roundup doesn’t do it either!

    • knowledgeable One says:

      Spraying the yard with Malathion will rid it of all insects including chiggers. Be careful to let it dry before letting animals out. Just follow directions on bottle and apply with a sprayer.

      • Jinty says:

        Hi, just been reading your recommendation of Melathion for treatment to lawns, etc. I am from Scotland and my dog and has been treated 3 times for the paracites and I am covered in bites. Your reply would be appreciated. J x

    • Ed says:

      I sprayed with Malathion and Sevin and it seemed to help.

    • jinty says:

      Dermovate for humans takes away the itching, but for dogs, its another matter. I have had mine at the vets 3 times now to be treated and still can’t get the little blitters!

  31. Anonymous says:

    70% rubbing alcohol. Constantly rub alcohol on the areaand I’m from Mississippi in the deep South and we have them bad especially in the woods

  32. Grogan child says:

    I was scared but since I researched it and found out how to fix it thanks guys

  33. crazy says:

    use pine oil works in one day!!!!!

  34. Lance says:

    Medicated Chapstick works within a day or so if applied early

  35. Berry Picker says:

    My grandmother made sure we wore long pants and tennis shoes if we were going out in the “scrub”. She would dust us with sulfur. The red bugs got on the grandkids who refused the sulfur treatment. The sulfur washed off in the bath tub. The red bug bites didn’t. I personally prefer to use Off on my kids. It’s not quite as effective as the sulfur was, though.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I got them in the woods. They got on me (could not see them) Sunday, Memorial weekend. I am still fighting them , itching like crazy !!!!!Took a bath and scrubbed them and put itch cream on the bites. When , I got home Monday I put bleach on a Q-tip and dabbed the scratched areas really well. That seemed to help a little on most of the bites. I notices that some of them didn’t come up until Tuesday.

  37. just me says:

    Vicks Salve, or Vicks Vap O Rub as some call it. Believe me it works……

  38. firsttime says:

    diluted clorox bath

  39. Good pirate says:

    Premetherin Cream, you need a prescription for it.

  40. jjjjjjjjj says:

    ice !!!! they hate cold

  41. Uberpwnage says:

    red bugs are red

  42. Panic! says:

    Since last thursday I’ve been getting bitten I don’t know if its chiggers or not at night I feel things on my legs feet and round the crotch they itch like mad can any tell me if its chiggers that are biteing me

  43. Anonymous says:

    I have chigger bites right now,I was told to use clear nail polish and it’s not working

  44. Anonymous says:

    I have these bumps on my leg and i thought tht it was chigger but i got all over my both my legs and is now on my stomach and spreading so i guess it’s not chiggers

  45. Anonymous says:

    Nothing works.

  46. jess says:

    i usually use nail polish but this time it isnt workin an there all over my husband:(

  47. bugging out says:

    I’m so releived

  48. coolman360 says:

    I thought I had chigger bites but from what you said it sounds like I had extremly severe hives.

  49. Potato says:

    yeah I always thought they burrowed in to the skin!

  50. Baby_Wallaby says:

    I usually put clear nailpolish on it and it does the trick — even though I see you are saying it does’nt.

    • Randeh says:

      Actually the author didn’t say that. They explained what nailpolish DOESN’T do.

      It’ll work if you believe it works.

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