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Chiggers: How to Identify and Treat Chigger Bites

Chiggers are a type of mite that can attach to your skin. Keep reading to find out what chiggers are, what they look like, what their bites look like, and how to treat them. 

Chiggers are juvenile forms of a mite from the Trombiculidae family. These small bugs are barely visible to the human eye, usually about 1/150th of an inch in length. The juvenile chigger is red and has six legs, while adults have eight legs. Chiggers live everywhere in the world but are most commonly found in forests, grassy fields, parks, gardens, and moist areas around rivers or lakes.

Also known as harvest mites, bête rouge, and scrub mites, chiggers are tiny red mites. They are not insects but arachnids, making them relatives of ticks and spiders. 

Chiggers can bite, leaving a rash often known as a chigger rash. Chiggers like to attach themselves to skin that is tender, wrinkled, or thin. For example, chigger bites frequently occur in the crotch or groin areas, armpits, ankles, or the folds behind the knees. A chigger will liquefy skin cells, causing a rash, intense itching, and discomfort for several hours. Chiggers do not burrow into the skin, feed on blood, or carry diseases. If left undisturbed, chiggers can stay attached to a person for several days.

Chiggers are usually found in overgrown grassy areas, especially where small rodents are abundant. These mites love to congregate in shady, humid areas near bodies of water, under or around trees, and in berry bushes. Chiggers can attach themselves to clothing or human skin in search of a feeding area.

Since people can’t see chiggers, it’s the chigger bite that makes people aware of a chigger’s presence. If someone has a chigger infestation on their skin, they may experience intense itching with raised or flat red bumps on the skin that can blister. 

Chiggers bite by inserting their feeding structures into the skin. The mites can feed on the skin for several days if they’re left undisturbed. 

The larval form of the chigger bites people, but the adult form is not parasitic. Larval chiggers are yellow, orange, or red. Some people think that chiggers turn red from feeding on blood, but this isn’t true; a chigger will turn yellowish after a blood meal. Chiggers need a humid environment for biting, such as groin areas or armpits. 

Sometimes chiggers can cluster together to form a reddish spot. Bites may not be noticed until one to three hours after the mite secretes a digestive enzyme into the skin, which kills the skin cells. These dead cells then form a tube called a stylostome, which the chigger larva uses to withdraw digested tissue. It’s this enzyme that causes itching. 

If you or your child is bitten by a chigger, the itching will be the most intense for the first 24–48 hours after the bite before subsiding. Chigger bites can last for up to two weeks before the affected area looks normal again. 

Identifying chigger bites can be difficult. A chigger bite has a tiny red dot in the center, which is what remains of the scablike tube your body forms in response to the chigger’s irritating saliva. 

Chiggers are very temperature sensitive. They do not bite at extreme temperatures colder than 60 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter than 99 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chigger bites will get better naturally with time. The itching, however, can lead to scratching. When you scratch, you can break the skin and increase your risk of infection.

Treatment for chiggers is focused on relieving the itching. This will reduce the chances of scratching and infection. Some common chigger bite treatment options are:

  • Calamine lotion
  • Corticosteroid creams
  • Oral antihistamine medications
  • Colloidal oatmeal baths
  • Cold showers, baths, and cool compresses

A common misconception is that you should apply alcohol, bleach, or nail polish to the skin to suffocate the mites. This isn’t an effective option because chiggers don’t live in the skin. In many cases, no treatment is needed.

Chiggers are too small to see, so the best way to prevent chigger bites is to avoid them as much as possible. Make sure to:

  • Avoid walking through unmowed brush, fields, or other overgrown areas. Walk in the center of mowed trails. 
  • When hiking or camping, try to find out if there are known chigger infestations in the area. If there are, make sure to wear long pants and tuck them into your boots or socks. Additionally, wear long-sleeved shirts and high ankle boots. Wearing clothing made of tightly woven fabrics can help prevent chiggers from reaching your skin.
  • Apply tick or insect repellent. Always read the directions of the products and follow them carefully.  
  • Take a bath or shower immediately after coming indoors. This can remove chiggers that haven’t had an opportunity to attach to your skin yet. If itching has already started, it’s probably too late for a shower to help. 
  • If a shower isn’t possible, briskly and thoroughly rub your skin with a dry towel to try to remove chiggers before they feed.

Chiggers are tiny mites and extremely hard to see. A prevalent misconception is that chiggers will burrow into the skin and stay there, but this isn’t true. Chiggers bite by inserting feeding structures into the skin. Next, they inject enzymes to kill the skin cells. This area hardens and the stylostome (feeding tube) develops at the bite. 

Chiggers can feed on the skin for several days if they’re left undisturbed. Luckily, chigger bites don’t spread diseases or cause any serious complications. If you get bitten by chiggers, the bites will be very itchy. If you scratch the bites, they could become infected. 

The best way to prevent being bitten by chiggers is to avoid them as much as possible. Don’t wear shorts, sandals, or sleeveless shirts if you’re going into chigger-infested areas.

https://www.emedicinehealth.com/chiggers/article_em.htm#what_are_chigger_bites
https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef630
https://www.emedicinehealth.com/chiggers/article_em.htm
https://www.aocd.org/page/Chiggers
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/chiggers
https://www.emedicinehealth.com/chiggers/article_em.htm#chigger_bites_prognosis
https://www.emedicinehealth.com/chiggers/article_em.htm#what_are_home_remedies_for_chiggers
https://www.aocd.org/page/Chiggers
https://extension2.missouri.edu/g7398

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