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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!

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

  1. I was at summer camp and I got 70 chigger bites on my stomach. I still have scars from itching them

  2. I think I have an infestation of chiggers….itches bad and bumps are very uncomfortable

  3. Clorox on a q-tip helps. Bug spray applied before exposure helps. Take a scrubby hot shower with soap immediately after coming inside will prevent many of the crawling critters from attaching. Chiggerex works for the itching.

  4. Just got chigger bites about a week ago, bout ready to scratch my ankles off. Read about Vicks rub and salt. It totally works.
    Mix together Vicks rub or any generic mentholatum ointment and ordinary salt until the salt is well in the ointment. Dab or spread over all the bites making sure to have salt granules on each bite. the menthol feels cool and the salt (to me) helps dry them up and stop itching!

  5. I got chiggers bad one year camping and on the way home we stopped at a hotel….we got in the pool and the chlorine killed them dead!

  6. Thanks

  7. Anti-itch lotion works great
    🙂

  8. To keep them from biting in the first place, apply some Vick’s Vapor Rub on your legs and ankles before you go out.

  9. An old trick to avoid getting chiggers, is apply a light dusting of powdered sulfur (Walgreens) in your socks or shoes before going out in woods. Remembering this trick is the next problem.

  10. I have more than 50 chigger bites on my chest, shoulders, and back. I thought they were mosquito bites, but when Hydrocortisone wasn’t working, my mom said it might be chiggers. I showered in warm water (heavenly relief for the intense itch), and have applied calamine. Tomorrow, I think I will try bathing in baking soda water.

    • I have over 125 chigger bites. I believe I got them picking cucumbers in my garden.I went to Dr. because I did not know what they were. I have had them for three days and they are not going away. I keep breaking out. now on my face and neckline. I am using benedryl and calamine as per my Dr. Can you get poisoned from so many? HELP!

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