There’s nothing worse than returning home from a weekend camping trip, a beautiful day on the golf course or a fun-filled picnic in the park to find your body full of red, terribly itchy bumps. You didn’t see any bugs or feel any bugs – so how could it be bug bites? Most likely, though, you were attacked by tiny, unseen critters with big appetites … chiggers.
WHAT ARE CHIGGERS?
Chiggers are the larval form of a certain type of mite, called the Trombiculidae. They are closely related to ticks and are a part of the arachnid family, along with spiders and scorpions. They are also known as berry bugs, harvest mites or red mites. As they are only about 1/150th of an inch in size, they are barely visibly by the naked eye. Chiggers are born red, but they will turn yellow in color after they feed on human skin. They are typically found outdoors, especially in tall, grassy fields and forests. Chiggers are also found in damp areas, such as alongside lakes and streams.
HOW DO CHIGGERS BITE?
As you walk through or sit in a grassy area, chiggers will attach to your skin by inserting tiny specialized mouthparts into pores or hair follicles. This occurs most often around the ankles, back of the knees, in the crotch area, under the belt line and in the armpits – anywhere the skin is thinner and has wrinkles or folds.
Once attached to your skin, chiggers inject saliva into the bite. The saliva contains a powerful digestive enzyme that dissolves skin cells on contact. The liquefied skin cells are what the chiggers ingest and use for food. Unlike ticks, they don’t suck blood. After they start feeding, your skin begins to react by hardening cells around the saliva, forming a tube-like structure called a stylostome. While the stylostome walls off their saliva, it also serves as a feeding tube for chiggers. It allows chiggers to suck up your liquefied tissue like they are using a straw.
When chiggers bite you, you won’t feel it. They are so small that their bites are painless and non-irritating. However, as their enzymes spread through your skin, you will start to see and feel symptoms.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CHIGGER BITES?
Symptoms of chigger bites include the following:
- Small, pimple-like bumps topped with white caps
- Severe itching
Symptoms typically appear within a few hours of being bitten. Itching usually peaks a day or two later. This occurs because stylostomes remain imbedded in your skin tissue long after the chigger is gone. The intense itching happens as a result of an allergic reaction to the stylostomes. Eventually, they will be absorbed by your body, but the process may take up to 10 days, or longer.
If left undisturbed, chiggers can take three to four days or more to feed. However, they rarely get the chance because they can easily be brushed away or scratched off by their host. When they do fall off, they are unable to bite again and will eventually die.
Their bites and the reaction caused by them, though, don’t go away so easily. Thankfully, there are several chigger bite treatments that can help ease redness and manage the serious itch. Best of all, they are readily available as home remedies.
WHAT ARE HOME REMEDIES FOR CHIGGER BITES?
Warm Shower or Bath. If you suspect you may have been exposed to chiggers, the best precaution against their bites is to take a warm, soapy shower or bath. This can quickly and effectively get rid of unseen chiggers and dramatically reduce the number of bites. Remember to use plenty of soap and scrub your entire body. Once you have finished, rinse off with very cold water. This can help soothe your skin and reduce itching.
Calamine Lotion. This is a natural topical medication that is made from zinc. It’s used as an anti-itch treatment, and is very effective against insect bites. Use a cotton ball to dab the pink lotion on affected areas of skin twice a day or whenever itching returns.
Baking Soda. With natural skin-soothing properties, baking soda can help control chigger bite itch. Mix equal parts of baking soda and water to create a thick paste. Spread it on the hives and let sit for at least 20 minutes before rinsing off and patting dry.
Antihistamines. There are many over-the-counter, commercial allergy medications that may be used to help reduce the symptoms of chigger bites. If necessary, consult with your doctor to find out which would be best.
There are also natural alternatives to drug-based antihistamines, some include:
- Stinging Nettle – 300mg a day
- Vitamin C – 2g a day
- Bromelain (an enzyme in pineapples) – 500mg taken 3 times a day
- Quercetin (an antioxidant in onions) – dosage varies
Cold Compress. Keeping your skin cool can help reduce skin irritation and itching. It can also soothe away topical redness. Use a cold towel compress, or consider soaking green or black tea bags, placing them in your fridge for a few hours, and then applying them to your skin rash (the antioxidants in the tea can help nourish and heal your skin).
Oatmeal. Due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, oatmeal can be used to treat many sin conditions, such as acne, pruritus and atopic dermatitis. It helps to soothe rashes brought on by allergic reactions, making it ideal for chigger bites. Add one cup of oatmeal to a warm bath on a daily basis.
Tea Tree Oil. This essential oil is widely used to treat acne and insect bites due to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It also possesses antimicrobial properties that can prevent further infection of the affected area. Twice a day, apply tea tree oil directly to the itchy areas with the help of a cotton ball or swab.
Coconut Oil. Coconut oil is made up of medium-chain fatty acids that possess strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. These can help reduce the itchiness and inflammation associated with chigger bites. Coconut oil can also help to keep your skin moisturized and well-nourished. Apply to the affected areas up to twice a day, leave on and let absorb into your skin.
Apple Cider Vinegar. Due to its acidic nature, apple cider vinegar can help neutralize the affected skin. Its anti-inflammatory properties help reduce swelling and pain, while its antimicrobial properties protect your skin from further infection. Soak a cotton ball with apple cider vinegar and apply directly to the chigger bites.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT CHIGGER BITES?
When you are planning an outdoor activity, such as camping or a picnic, there are simple steps you can take to reduce your risks of getting bitten by chiggers:
- Avoid overgrown areas or tall grass.
- Stick to clear trails or paths when walking or hiking.
- Apply insect repellent to your skin and clothes, including your shoes.
- Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
- Take a shower or bath immediately after finishing outdoor recreation.
- Wash your clothes before wearing them again.
WHAT ARE KEY POINTS TO KNOW ABOUT CHIGGERS?
Chiggers are fast. Chiggers run around rapidly and move toward and onto any new object in their environment. They are capable of getting all over a person’s body in just a few minutes.
Chiggers congregate in patches. Many times, people can be heavily attacked in a highly concentrated area, while others sitting only a few yards away will receive no bites at all.
Chiggers are affected by temperature. They are most active in the afternoon, and when the ground temperature is between 77 and 86 degrees. This is why they are more common in southern states. Chiggers become inactive when temperatures fall below 60 degrees, and they die off completely in temperatures below 42 degrees.
Chiggers prefer women and children. Well, not really, but women and children tend to get more bites than men. While they may collect the same amount of chiggers if walking together, women and children have thinner skin, which provides more surface area for chiggers to bite.Chigger bites are harmless. If you let the rash run its course, you should have no adverse effects from the bites. Chiggers do not carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever or any other disease. Even though the itch is intense, avoid scratching, as this can break your skin and increase the risk of infection. If your rash does become infected, you may need prescription antibiotics to keep it from becoming more serious.