Tips for Dealing with Chigger Bites

chigger bites cure

People look forward to spring since it brings warmer weather, blooming flowers, and green grass. It’s also a good time for kids who can finally play outside again. Unfortunately, spring also brings forth pesky insects that can ruin the fun.

Insects and other pests come out of hibernation when the weather starts to warm up. They’re looking for food, water, and places to mate. While some pests are more active in the spring than others, they can all be a nuisance.

Going out for a stroll in the park can be ruined by itchy, red welts from chigger bites. These tiny mites are barely visible to the naked eye, but their bites are very noticeable. 

What are Chiggers?

Chiggers are the juvenile or larval form of mites called Trombiculidae. They are also known as harvest mites, red bugs and mower’s mites. Chiggers are tiny arachnids, measuring only about 0.15 to 0.30 mm in diameter. Since they are arachnids, chiggers have eight legs. Despite their small size, chiggers can be a big nuisance due to their biting habits.

Chiggers are found in most parts of the world but are most common in tropical and subtropical regions. In the United States, chiggers are particularly prevalent in the Southeast and Midwest. Outbreaks of chigger bites often occur in late spring or early summer when the weather is warm and humid.

Chigger Habitats

chiggers insect chigger bites
Full-grown chiggers have 8 legs and may look like some types of mites. They can grow up to 1/60th of an inch. Photo by MiromaxStudio

Chiggers live in woody areas, tall weeds, grass, and berry patches. They may live in the backyard, near a lake, or along a hiking trail. They are most active on afternoons during spring, summer, and fall when temperatures are warm. However, they can become inactive when temperatures go below 60 degrees Fahrenheit or 16 degrees Celsius. These pests also die when temperatures go below 42 degrees Fahrenheit or six degrees Celsius. 

What is a Chigger Bite?

Chigger bites cause severe itchy skin. Chigger larvae are the main culprits since adult chiggers do not bite humans. These pests focus on the moist areas in the body. Chiggers bite anywhere on the body but are most common on the ankles, waistline, crotch, armpits, and behind the knees. Chigger bites also happen in areas where clothing is tight against the skin.

These mites use their claws to grab on and then insert their mouthparts into exposed skin. The chigger injects saliva containing an enzyme that breaks down skin cells so the chigger can feast on the host’s body fluids.

As the chigger feeds, your body will respond by hardening the skin around the saliva. This process creates a tube called a stylostome that allows the chigger to continue feeding. Chiggers can stay attached and feed for several days. However, they typically fall off after four days.

Chigger bites are itchy and uncomfortable, but they are not dangerous or deadly.

You will not immediately notice the initial bite of a chigger. You’ll likely feel symptoms around three hours after the chigger bites.

Symptoms of Chigger Bites

Chiggers latch on the same area of the body for days, which is why you may find multiple bites in the same place. The bites are often found on areas of clothing that fit tightly against your skin, such as socks, waistbands, and collars. Symptoms of chigger bites include:

Red Bumps or Pimples

Several chiggers latch on human skin when a person walks through an area infested with chiggers. Once the chigger falls off, a reddish bump is left on the skin. These reddish bumps are itchy and look like small hives or pimples. The bumps can appear in groups and may get worse over several days. They are commonly found around the ankles, waist, or other warm skin folds. 

There may also be a bright red dot in the center of the bite. The red dot is due to the tube formed in response to the chigger’s saliva. The tube allows the chigger to feed on human skin cells. If you scratch the bite, it can cause the red dot to become bigger.

Severe Itching

When the chigger first latches on the skin, you will not feel it. But after a few hours, you will feel its symptoms. Severe itching is the most annoying symptom of a chigger bite. You will likely want to scratch it, causing more irritation. The itching can last for several days. Sometimes, the itchiness is so bad that it can keep you up at night. The severe itching caused by chigger bites will be intense during the first two days. But the symptoms will gradually disappear after around two weeks.

Health Risks of Chigger Bites

Chigger bites cause severe itching and are annoying. They also make it challenging to sleep. A chigger bite does not usually affect your health. These mites do not suck blood but feed on skin cells. Chiggers do not transmit or carry diseases.

But chigger bites can also cause infections if you scratch the area too much. Due to this, it is essential to treat chigger bites. And if necessary, consult your doctor if you have a fever or the affected areas start to swell.

You should also know that you can get scrub typhus from chigger bites with the Orientia tsutsugamushi bacteria. But these cases usually happen to international travelers exposed to chiggers in countries like Indonesia, India, Japan, China, and northern Australia.

When to Call an Emergency Medical Service

Chigger bites may often require simple home remedies, but there are instances when you need to call a local emergency medical service. This happens when someone has a severe allergic reaction to the bite.

The signs of a severe allergic reaction include:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Chest or throat tightening
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Fainting spells
  • Raised, red bumps appear in different parts of the body

How to Treat Chigger Bites

A chigger bite can take up to three weeks to heal. You should wash the affected area with soap and water to treat chigger bites. Washing will remove any chiggers left in the body. You do not need treatment to remove the mites since chiggers do not burrow into the skin. The rash also starts once the mites detach from the skin.

Treating chigger bites focus on reducing the intense itching you feel due to the bite. The treatment includes:

  • Clean the affected area with soap and water.
  • Wash your clothes with hot water to get rid of any chiggers on them.
  • Use over-the-counter anti-itch creams or lotions, such as calamine lotion.
  • Apply a cold compress or take antihistamine pills for itch treatment.
  • Take acetaminophen if you feel mild pain.
  • Avoid scratching the affected areas to prevent infection.

You should get professional medical advice if an infection occurs or the chigger bites do not get better.

Tips to Prevent Chigger Bites

Even though chigger bites do not generally pose a health risk, they are still annoying and uncomfortable. So, you must prevent them from happening first, especially if you go to areas where chiggers live. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Avoid brushing against vegetation if you are in wooded areas. Chiggers may infest these areas.
  • Avoid walking along the sides of a trail when hiking. Instead, it would help if you walked along the middle of the trail.
  • Wear long sleeves when you go outdoors whenever possible. It would help if you kept your long pants tucked into your shoes or socks.
  • Consult a healthcare provider about reliable insect repellents you can use. Apply the insect repellent along the waistband, cuffs, shoes, and shirt neck.
  • Avoid using heavily scented lotions and soap.
  • Take a shower after you arrive home or go indoors. You should also use hot water to wash the clothes you wore when you went out.
  • Protect your pets from fleas by buying anti-flea products.

Chigger bites can be annoying and uncomfortable. But there are several ways to avoid or deal with them if you experience a chigger bite. To make sure that your kids can safely play outside, do your research each time you go and visit a new area.

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