Chigger Bites – What chigger bites look like and how to treat them

Maybe you take your kids for a walk in the park. Or maybe enjoy an afternoon on the golf course. However, that outdoor fun sometimes comes at a price – an itchy rash from pests that you can’t even see.

They are called chiggers – bugs so small that you need a magnifying glass to spot them. They’re not dangerous, but their bites can trigger a strong urge to scratch.

Don’t let them get the best of you! Learn how to soothe your irritated skin and how to prevent bites the next time you use it outdoors.

What are chiggers and where are they lurking?

Scientists call these creatures “trombiculid mites”. But they have many nicknames. You might hear people call them harvest mites, harvest bugs, harvest lice, grass mites, or red beetles.

Technically, these living things are not insects. They are “arachnids” and belong to the same family as spiders and ticks.

You can travel the globe, but you cannot escape these pests. Chiggers live in every country. Her favorite spots are damp, grassy areas like fields, forests, and even your lawn. You can also find them near lakes and streams.

Adult chiggers don’t bite. It is the babies, called larvae, that you need to watch out for. They are red, orange, yellow or straw-colored and no longer than 0.3 millimeters.

After hatching from eggs, the babies do not fly and do not travel very far. They tend to cluster in large groups on leaves and grass, usually less than a foot off the ground, and attach to animals or people when they pass.

In the United States, chigger bites are most common in late spring, summer, and early fall. The beetles are active when the soil temperature is between 77 and 86 degrees F, and they die when it gets colder than 42.

What to Expect from a Chigger Bite

Once chiggers grab hold of your pants or shirt, they’ll crawl around until they find a patch of skin. There they drill tiny holes with sharp, jaw-like claws. Next, they inject saliva, which turns some of your cells into pulp.

Why are they doing it? For a chigger, these liquefied cells are food. When they get to you, they can stick to your skin for several days while you eat.

Chigger bites can happen anywhere on the body, but they often show up in clusters around the waist or lower legs. You may not notice anything at first, but after a few hours you will start to itch.

The itching usually lasts for several days and can sometimes keep you up at night. You may also find that your skin turns red and has bumps, blisters, or a hive-like rash that can take a week or two to heal.

If you are a man and you get a chigger bite in your groin area, you could develop a condition known as “summer penis syndrome”. It causes swelling, itching, and problems peeing. This can take a few days to a few weeks.

Chiggers don’t spread disease, but scratching can injure the skin and cause irritation or infection.

If you have traveled internationally to countries like Indonesia or Australia, your chigger bites can lead to an infection. In this case, consult a doctor.

What to do if you get a bite

If you think you’ve been around any chiggers, give yourself a full body checkup. You may be able to see tiny red spots that are either moving very quickly or sticking to your skin.

Your first step: take a bath or shower and scrub your skin with soap and water. This washes off any chiggers that are still on you.

Wash your clothes and any blankets or towels that have touched the floor with hot water to kill any bugs that are still hanging.

Then treat your bites with an over-the-counter anti-itch cream or ointment such as menthol, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone. You can also get relief by taking antihistamines or using a cold compress.

Chigger bites usually get better on their own. But if after a few days you are still having problems, see your doctor. On rare occasions, you may need steroid injections to relieve itching and swelling. Your doctor may also ask you to take antibiotics if your bites become infected.

How to prevent bites

If you spend time outdoors in grassy areas, use an insect repellent with DEET or wear clothing that has been treated with an insecticide such as permethrin. When applying bug spray, pay particular attention to areas where bugs could get from clothing on your skin, such as cuffs, cutouts, and the tops of socks.

Some studies show that natural sprays can help keep chiggers away. Try oils made from citronella, tea tree, jojoba, eucalyptus, geranium, or lemongrass.

And of course, don’t make yourself an easy target for a hungry chigger. Wear long sleeves and long pants with your pant legs tucked into long socks.

These simple tips will lower your chances of getting chigger bites. Then you can enjoy nature – without itching!

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