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How Do You Prevent and Treat Chigger Bites?

chigger-3

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!

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

  1. I was cutting tree limbs in my back yard and felt something biting me but thought nothing of it, now that I’m reading this website I understand what it was. It itches like crazy. Scratch scratch scratch!!!! Thanx for info. Itchy

  2. There’s a liquid benedryl and also a spray that works pretty well.

  3. clear nail polish works great

  4. If they get on your dogs and in the house how do u treat them?

    • Well,,, I was cleaning a yard that hadn’t been kept up with ln a while when I contacted the villians, and I soaked in epsomes salt and used lotion with tea tree oil mixed in it, also I put a blow dryer on the bites on the hot setting and it felt great and dried them up quick! Not recommended for young children.

    • I would like to know the same thing. My lap dog lays all over me. Also, how long do the bite spots stay itchy?

  5. wow that is alot of work

  6. Walkin in the woods // November 7, 2013 at 5:05 pm // Reply

    Benadryl works ok but it makes me sleepy. I rub deodorant/ antiperspirant on the itch. It takes the edge off 🙂

  7. Thanks for the info

  8. Red bugs are orange

  9. itchy princess // September 24, 2013 at 11:28 pm // Reply

    i slept over to my sister’s house who has a cat and I am itching like crazy because she let the cat out side and ut came back in with flees and other stuff so now I have flee bites and other itchy red bites that itch and hurt and they also made my ankles swollen.

  10. My doctor (allergist) thought they were spider bites but when my daughter got them around her waistband also a few days later I knew it was something else. We have used the maximum strength hydrocortisone crème with a bandaid over to keep the crème in place. This has helped some but I am trying some of these other remedies. Thanks!

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