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How Do You Prevent and Treat Chigger Bites?



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 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.


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!

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

  1. Kerosene rub on let sit till dry wash off cured

  2. mountaingirl // August 7, 2019 at 5:41 am // Reply

    I do not use fingernail polish to try and kill a chigger, but guess what? For me once it dries I no longer itch! That’s a plus.

  3. Well they got me again. I tried hot shower with Dawn. Applied mint mouth wash and a topical with 1 percent. As good as it gets. Absolutely little beasts.

  4. Hates Bugbites // August 2, 2019 at 9:17 am // Reply

    Try solid deodorant for itch relief. Dont understand why it helps but it seems to stop itching.

  5. How do you kill chiggers in your couch I can not sit on my couch without get them on me

  6. smithtowndad // July 29, 2019 at 1:00 am // Reply

    Meat tenderizer and absorbine Jr seems to be doing the trick for me.

  7. Oh, please do stop with the sulfur!! After showering, apply rubbing alcohol liberally, to the affected areas and take two Benedryl. Apply rubbing alcohol as needed and take Benedryl per dosage instructions.

  8. i have about 200 bites.. serious.. count them! i am miserable! how didi this happen.. i did not see any bugs on me and i check for them regularly .. can you SEE a chigger?
    what do i do now?

    • I just picked some up apparently a couple days ago. WHen the itching started, I showered, applied a lot of rubbing alcohol to the affected areas and took 2 benedryl. That combo appears to keep the itching at bay. Good luck!

      • They are about half the size of a pinhead and are red in color. They move frequently and drive you crazy. Very hard to see them. They are in the pitbull family lool

    • They are horrible little buggers. Seriously get some toothache medicine mix it in with some other topical, personally I used vicks (it burned a little) and put that on your bites. The stuff that numbs in the toothache medicine does the same for your skin it helps.

  9. Logic Seeker // July 4, 2019 at 10:31 am // Reply

    Okay…. so do chiggers attach themselves or not? Are they a sort of microscopic tick, then, if they do? And if they are attached, then why would nail polish not work? They are sitting there attached to the skin! This article begs a few questions.
    Logic Seeker

  10. Powdered sulfur works, but it’s also toxic. Use a Permethrin-based spray and get your clothes damp, then let them dry. The permethrin will remain and kill chiggers on contact and is safe for humans. You can even soak your clothes in Permethrin and it will remain through several washes.

    Once you notice the rash from the chigger bite, the chigger is long gone already. There is nothing you can do to “suffocate” the chigger and kill it because it’s no longer there. All you can do is treat the symptoms. 10 % Hydrocortisone from Wal Mart, $2.50 for a tube. Apply as needed.

    • Sulfer doesn’t work worth a darn. I believed that fable and used powdered sulfer on shoes and pant legs. Vot really bad case of chiggers. Next time I’m sticking to deep woods off spray. And tuck in the pants legs.

      • Vinegar. Rinse after bathing. I spray vinegar water on me before I go out.

      • Forester // July 16, 2019 at 10:07 am //

        You have to put the sulfer on the skin under the areas such as socks, waste bands, and bras. Use this all the time and NEVER get chiggers. I also use quite a bit of deet too.

      • Birder Girl // October 7, 2019 at 12:45 pm //

        Well sulphur sure worked for me in south Texas. I bought it at the pharmacy in powdered form, dumped it into a sock and “puffed” it on the exterior of my long pants and socks.

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