Chiggers are tiny, parasitic insects that inhabit warm, damp environments and can feed on humans and other animals. There are two types of chiggers found in North America: the red mites (sometimes called harvest mites) and the gray mites. Both types of mites are very small, brownish-black colored, and almost invisible to the unaided eye, measuring in at around 0.15-0.3mm.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the steps necessary for the treatment and prevention of these nasty bites. We’ll take a look at where chigger bites are most common, when chigger bites occur, how to diagnose chigger bites, and how to avoid chigger bites.
Contrary to popular belief, the are not insects. They are in fact arachnids, in the same family as spiders and ticks.
Though found worldwide, in the U.S., they are most commonly found in fields, pastures and forests of the South, Southeast and Midwest.. Chiggers are nocturnal so it is more likely that you will come across them at night. After dusk, chiggers tend to move into sheltered areas with large amounts of leaf litter or forest undergrowth where they can remain active throughout the night.
Chiggers move quickly when they sense danger and can hide in small spaces. When searching for chiggers, look for small black dots scattered through grass or shrubbery as well as around outdoor faucets and outdoor water sources such as pet bowls or birdbaths.
What is a Chigger Bite?
These little bugs go on high alert when humans enter the territory where chiggers live; namely wooded areas of tall shrubbery and foliage. The shadow you cast and the vibrations you cause can be felt by them as you walk. Additionally, we release carbon dioxide and body heat, which chiggers can pick up on. They know this tells them we are a host to eat from.
In many cases, they attach themselves to clothes in tight places, such as the sock line, waistline, underwear, and bra line. Their bites usually occur in skin depressions, such as pores or hair follicles.
Their bites also occur in soft, thin areas such as knee pits, armpits, and the groin. It is most likely that they will bite in clusters in places where there are creases or folds in your skin.
When a chigger bites, they don’t burrow into your skin and drink your blood. This is a common misconception. Chiggers bites are not like mosquito bites in that they don’t have piercing mouthparts like mosquitoes do, nor do they have barbed mouthparts like ticks do.
Rather than a long pincher, chiggers have a sharp mouthpiece known as a chelicerae that is connected to a short pincher. As with tick bites, they attach themselves to the exposed skin and remain there while feeding.
In order to digest your skin, the chigger secretes enzymes into it, which breakdown the skin as it goes, while at the same time creating a tunnel (called a stylostome) on the surface of your skin that allows it to suction up your liquified skin cells. Yum!
The most common symptom of chigger bites is intense itching, caused by the release of an anticoagulant saliva which results in an allergic reaction. This reaction, as well as the stylostome causes intense itching. This saliva can be very irritating and can also cause a painful burning sensation.
After a few hours, your body begins to produce histamine which leads to a powerful inflammatory reaction that causes swelling and pain.
A chigger can remain on the skin for up to three or four days, although this is not the case often, since they are often brushed off before then.
What are the symptoms when chiggers bite?
Typical chigger bites are red and form a welt which is typically 1-2mm in diameter. This area will typically become itchy, swollen and painful up to 24 to 48 hours later. Chigger bites may also develop into an abnormal skin reaction called dermacentor rashes which are characterized by a red or purple rash that covers a larger area of the skin than just on the bite site.
If you suspect you have been bitten, wash the affected areas with soap and water and scrub your skin. If symptoms persist or get worse, seek medical attention.
How do you identify a chigger bite?
Chigger bites usually start out as a small red spot that is about the size of a pin head. You may not see the chigger itself, but when you press on the bite you might be able to feel it moving near your skin. This is an indication that it has already burrowed into your skin.
The redness around the bite will eventually turn into an orange or brown area of discoloration. If you do find a chigger bite on your skin, remember to keep the area clean and avoid scratching since this can worsen the pain and potentially cause a skin infection.
If you use soap and water, be sure to dry the area well before putting anything on it such as ointments or lotions.
How do you treat a chigger bite?
A common way to provide treatment for a chigger bite is with an ice pack or cold compress. Wrap the compress in a wet, clean cloth or paper towel before placing it over the bite for 15 minutes. The compression should help to cool the area and numb the pain.
For relief from itching, we recommend using a powerful anti-itch cream like Dermeleve®.
Dermeleve® works in as little as five minutes, with relief lasting up to five hours- all without the use of dangerous corticosteroids which can cause serious skin damage with extended use.
Taking a shower right after returning home is crucial if you have been in an area where chiggers often hang out, or even if you are unsure whether you have been in an area where chiggers frequent. There is a direct correlation between the duration of the itching period and how long the chigger remained attached to your skin.
As long as the chigger feeds, the stylostome gets deeper, so it is best to remove them as soon as possible.
The first thing you should do when you return from an area where chiggers are suspected to be present is to wipe your shoes down, inside and out, and to wash your clothes as soon as you can. You should then put your clothing in a clothes dryer on high heat for 30 minutes, as the heat from the dryer will kill any chiggers or other insects that may still be in the clothes.
How can you prevent chigger bites?
The best way to treat bites is to prevent bites! Chiggers typically stay under clothing or in shoes so if you are going outside at night it is likely that you are going to come into contact with them because they tend to prefer dark, damp areas.
If you don’t want to come across any chiggers while outside at night, take precautions such as wearing long-sleeve shirts, long pants and socks as well as putting on boots before going outside into a chigger habitat where they tend to bite people.
Another precaution is avoiding dark, wet areas like damp grassy areas or tall grasses by wearing long pants and tucking your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks in order to prevent them from getting up underneath your clothing.
An all natural insect repellent is also recommended, as this will aid in preventing the chiggers from taking hold. Spray the repellant on your skin and clothing, making sure to get any areas where your skin is exposed. Any patch of skin that is exposed is skin to feed on!
Chigger bites don’t just sound annoying; they are a true nuisance. And can be one of the more unpleasant parts of being outdoors. And though it may look like it, you don’t have to eschew all outside activity. Just be aware of what circumstances are most likely to result in chigger activity. Avoid tall shrubbery and grasses, trail edges and field, particularly from early spring through fall, when temperatures range from 70 – 80 degrees.
If you do find yourself out and about in these climates, remember to tuck.
Tuck your shirt into your pants.
Tuck your pants into your socks.
And tuck your tube of Dermeleve® into your bag. Your skin will thank you!