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How Do You Prevent and Treat Chigger Bites?

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WHAT ARE CHIGGERS?

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.

HOW DO CHIGGERS BITE US?

Chigger larvae 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, the chiggers 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.

HOW DO YOU TREAT CHIGGER BITES?

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 chiggers 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, with tall grass.

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 chigger 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!

8 Comments on How Do You Prevent and Treat Chigger Bites?

  1. Old scouting trick: wear knee-high pantyhose over your socks and then over the opening of your trouser, denying these little bastards an opening to get to your skin.

  2. Yes. Nail polish seals the tiny holes and the chigger suffocates and dies–no “belief” needed. Creams did absolutely nothing.

    • that’s a myth. but sealing the bite from the air does help with the itching, as well as the acetone in the polish. You’re better off using Benadryl topical cream.

  3. Best treatment for a bite is a hairdryer set on high. Blast the bite with as much heat as you can. 8 hours of relief…enough for a good night’s sleep.

  4. The best we have found in Louisiana to stop red bug itching is to add 1 oz. of bleach to the bath water. A small amount of bleach does the deal!

  5. Probably not chiggers if they are in your bed and your dogs are itching also. Sounds like a flea infestation which can be miserable. Either invest in fleacollars for your dog or visit your vet for flea prevention meds. Wash all of your bed lines and spray your mattress with a good flea spray. Also treat ant carpet in your house with flea powder or have an exterminator spray. This should eliminate the problem.

  6. Rub on petroleum jelly, it certainly has given me some relief.

  7. Chiggerin my bed from dogs how do i kill thy are biting all of us????

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