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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!

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

  1. To avoid the monsters, wear long pants and tuck them into your boots when working outside. If you do get them, take a bath in a weak bleach solution to kill them. Then use cortizone cram on the affected areas.

  2. wanddrama // June 7, 2014 at 2:57 am // Reply

    aloe vera works great

  3. big fergie // June 5, 2014 at 4:48 pm // Reply

    Try mint flavored mouthwash. It works and smells minty fresh, but sticky to the touch.

  4. country girl // June 5, 2014 at 4:19 pm // Reply

    I have tried a little of everything and decided to use a tea bag. My mom always used tea bags for everything. Well, it worked! The itching stopped and the redness started to fade. I just made tea for me. Then used the warm tea bag on my worst spots. I only held it on the bite for a minute or two. Hope this helps.

  5. jojo21381 // June 3, 2014 at 8:49 pm // Reply

    Use to get chigger bites regularly. Best thing I found was clear nail polish. Because once places are painted u can see the little dot. After places dry scratch off the nail polish and bug with it.

    • Did you read the article. It said bugs did not burrow. I thought the same. I could not understand why the nail polish was not working. Then I found this article, now I know why its not working.

  6. In the Scratch of time // June 1, 2014 at 10:09 pm // Reply

    Try using Avon Skin So Soft, Original Scent. We have used the oil version and it cuts down ALL bug interaction. It also helps dogs with their itchy hot spots.

  7. Anonymous // June 1, 2014 at 7:28 am // Reply

    Finger nail polish works better than anything else it is not just a myth !!!

  8. Take a long bath in Epsom Salt!

  9. redbugdead // May 30, 2014 at 8:47 pm // Reply

    Hairspray gets rid of them but burns real bad

  10. Chigger magnet // May 24, 2014 at 10:06 pm // Reply

    I’ve been fighting this for years. Nail polish doesn’t help much, joint meds like icy hot works pretty well, preparation H helps. I also have tubes of cortisone cream within reach at all times. I really just want to know how to avoid the bites because there is really nothing that instantly cures the itch. I’ve tried it all. I ant even step into grass I have to stay on sidewalks at all times. Why me?

    • For a good chigger repellent, get sulfur at Vitamin Shoppe (call ahead for Walgreen’s or CVS — they may not carry). Sprinkle sulfur liberally inside socks and shoes and on your legs.

    • Have you ever had an allergy test? Sounds like you may be experiencing an allergic reaction to grass.

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