How to Avoid Chiggers and Treat Chigger Bites

A chigger, waiting to drain your fluids.

Summer is here, and so are chiggers, the larvae of mites. They’re also referred to as scrub or harvest mites, and there is nothing fun about their bites. Similar to ticks, mites go through three stages of development in their life. They begin as eggs, hatch to become larvae and develop into nymphs, and then become adults. In the nymph and adult stage, chiggers eat plant material and don’t mess with mammals, including people. However, in the larval stage they are parasitic and hitch a ride on humans and animals to feed.

Many people think chiggers burrow under the skin, but this isn’t true. They also do not feed on our blood. In reality, chiggers dine on the fluids in our skin cells by attaching themselves to a hair follicle or skin pore and injecting a digestive enzyme that ruptures the cells. The enzyme makes the skin tissue hard which forms a type of straw through which the mite can suck the fluids. As a result, the skin becomes irritated, and a red bump appears. These are always annoying and if you scratch at them too much, you can cause bleeding, scarring, and possibly infection. Obviously, it's best to just prevent chigger bites from the beginning, but if this isn't possible, take care of yourself instead.

Avoiding Chiggers

Stay Away

One of the best ways to avoid chiggers is to stay out of their territory. They enjoy damp areas with plenty of vegetation and shade, so if you are hiking, sticking to the main trail is best for preventing a chigger onslaught.

Be Unwelcoming

Keep your yard unfriendly for chiggers by keeping your grass mowed and other plants trimmed. After creating an unwelcome environment, you are apt to have less trouble with these pesky critters.

Dress the Part

Wear the proper clothing. If you are outdoors, wear long pants and shirts that fit loosely. Keep your shirt tucked into your pants to protect your waist from the nasty little bugs. A belt is also a good idea.

Wear tall, tightly woven socks and hiking boots to protect ankles; tightly woven clothing works best because chiggers will sometimes crawl through cloth to get to your skin. Some companies offer hiking clothes that have chigger protection built in, which may be a good idea if you spend a lot of time outdoors. If you ever notice any chiggers on your clothes, wash them in warm soapy water as soon as possible to kill the bugs.

Use Repellent

Coat yourself in bug repellent before any long outing. This will really help deter chiggers from even landing on you at all. However, some repellents need to be applied every couple of hours in order to keep working. Try to avoid harsh chemicals if you can, as these can do more harm than good for your body. If you ever notice chiggers crawling on you, take a warm shower and use lots of soap to kill them before they can bite.

Treating Chigger Bites

Keep it Clean

Take a hot shower as soon as you notice bites or itching. This will kill any chiggers left on your skin and help soothe the irritation.

Soothe with Ointment

Apply hydrocortisone cream to the affected areas to help stop itching. Another option is to apply a paste of baking soda and water.

Don’t Touch

Avoid touching the spots at all costs. Itching will only irritate the skin, causing a worse rash.

Seal the Deal

If you can't stop itching, apply a coat of clear nail polish over the bites. This will seal them so you can’t directly scratch them.

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