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How do you treat chigger bites?

chigger-3

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!

43 Comments on How do you treat chigger bites?

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

    • soak in a bleach bath for thirty minutes then put cortizone on the bumps

      • Pee works // June 30, 2016 at 12:44 am //

        I was bitten by chiggers in Tuscany and the itch was unbearable. The cortisone creams did nothing to alleviate the itch. Finally out of desperation I peed on it — it worked! No more itch. Just be sure to sanitize and dress the area properly afterwards..

  2. 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?

  3. barbiedoll // June 16, 2013 at 5:46 pm // Reply

    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

    • 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.

      • Anonymous // June 10, 2015 at 1:19 pm //

        Use Fels Nappa on dogs or when coming in from hunting /woods – fleas and ticks can’t survive the lather and less harsh than Dawn.

  4. Rubbing alcohol does the trick.

  5. 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 // July 7, 2013 at 9:44 pm // Reply

      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.

      • 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

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

    • 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!

  6. 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

  7. Grogan child // June 5, 2013 at 3:24 pm // Reply

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

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

  9. Medicated Chapstick works within a day or so if applied early

  10. Berry Picker // June 1, 2013 at 9:02 am // Reply

    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.

  11. Anonymous // May 30, 2013 at 7:22 am // Reply

    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.

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

  13. firsttime // May 1, 2013 at 7:59 am // Reply

    diluted clorox bath

  14. Good pirate // April 14, 2013 at 9:00 am // Reply

    Premetherin Cream, you need a prescription for it.

  15. ice !!!! they hate cold

  16. red bugs are red

  17. 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

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

    • Try a little baking soda an water make a paste like substance an put it on it for about 30 min then go wash it off

  19. 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

  20. Nothing works.

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

  22. bugging out // June 1, 2012 at 2:00 pm // Reply

    I’m so releived

  23. coolman360 // May 24, 2012 at 4:25 pm // Reply

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

  24. yeah I always thought they burrowed in to the skin!

  25. Baby_Wallaby // April 24, 2012 at 3:56 pm // Reply

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

    • 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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