young woman with back pack outdoors spraying her arm to prevent chigger bites 682x408

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How to identify and treat chigger bites

  • Chiggers are arachnids, in the same family as spiders and ticks.
  • Chiggers are common in late spring, summer and early fall, and die off when temperatures drop below 42 degrees F.
  • Chigger bites are most common on your legs and waist.

Small but savage, chiggers are a common annoyance for people who love the outdoors. But what exactly are chiggers and how can you prevent a chigger bite?

What are chiggers

Chiggers are actually arachnids, in the same family as spiders and ticks. Chigger bites come from chigger larvae. When they hatch young chiggers can’t fly. Instead they tend to clump together on the ground on grass and leaves. When you play or walk in their habitat, they can easily climb onto your clothes and travel to a nearby patch of skin.

Tiny but mighty, chigger larvae have sharp claws. Once on your skin a chigger takes tiny bites and injects saliva under your skin. The resulting ‘mush’ is their food source. A chigger can remain on your skin for several days, feeding.

Where do chiggers live

Chiggers are common around the world in damp grassy fields, near lakes and streams, in forests, and even in your lawn. They are common in late spring, summer and early fall, and die when temps get below 42 degrees F.

What do chigger bites look like? 

Symptoms of chigger bites are red bumps, blisters or a rash with severe itching. Chigger bites are most common on your legs and waist. Boys and men can get bites in their groin and penis which can swell and lead to problems urinating. The good news is chigger bites, while annoying, are not known to carry disease.

Treatment for chigger bites

Chigger bites can be treated at home, but can take up to several weeks to completely heal. While it’s hard to do, avoid itching, which can break your skin and lead to an infection. An ice pack or a cold compresses can help sooth itchy skin. Treat chigger bites with over-the-counter, anti-itch cortisone cream or ointment, and over-the-counter antihistamines.

Schedule a virtual visit with your doctor if your chigger bites have not started to get better in a few days. Depending on the symptoms, I may prescribe a steroid cream or ointment to relieve severe itching and swelling, or an antibiotic if your bites look infected.

Prevention of chigger bites

If you need to go into an area where chiggers are common, prepare. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants tucked into your boots or shoes. Then, use a bug spray containing permethrin on your clothes, shoes and exposed skin. Once you’re home:

  • check your skin carefully
  • take a shower or bath
  • wash your clothes, and any blankets or towels that touched the ground, in hot water

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