Chiggers definition and facts
- Chiggers are the larval (juvenile) form of a type of mite (Trombiculidae).
- Chiggers do not burrow into and remain inside the skin, contrary to popular belief.
- Chiggers inject digestive enzymes into the skin and feed upon the decomposed tissue.
- Pronounced itching is the main symptom of chigger bites.
- Bites may appear as blisters or as flat or raised red areas.
- Treatment involves supportive measures to control itching.
What do chiggers look like (pictures)? Can you see them?
Chiggers are barely visible to the naked eye (their length is less than 1/150th of an inch). A magnifying glass may be needed to see them. They are red in color and may be best appreciated when clustered in groups on the skin. The juvenile forms have six legs, although the (harmless) adult mites have eight legs.
How do chiggers burrow under the skin?
Chigger mites infest human skin via areas of contact with vegetation, such as pant cuffs or shirtsleeves and collars. They migrate on the skin in search of an optimal feeding area. A common myth about chiggers is that they burrow into and remain inside the skin. This is not true. Chiggers insert their feeding structures into the skin and inject enzymes that cause destruction of host tissue. Hardening of the surrounding skin results in the formation of a feeding tube called a stylostome. Chigger larvae then feed upon the destroyed tissue. If they are not disturbed (which is rarely the case because they cause substantial itching) they may feed through the stylostome for a few days.
The chigger's mouth and feeding structures are delicate and are best able to penetrate the skin at areas of wrinkles, folds, or other areas of skin that are thin. Most bites occur around the ankles, the crotch and groin areas, behind the knees, and in the armpits. Barriers to migration on the skin such as belts may be one reason that chigger bites also commonly occur at the waist or at other areas where their migration is prevented by compression from clothing. The location of chigger bites contrasts with that of mosquito bites, which are usually in exposed areas of skin where mosquitoes can land.
What are the signs and symptoms of chigger bites?
A chigger bite itself is not noticeable. After the chigger has begun to inject digestive enzymes into the skin (usually after about 1-3 hours), symptoms and signs typically begin.
- Pronounced itching is the most common symptom.
- The area of the bite may be reddened, flat, or raised; sometimes it resembles a pustule or blister.
- The itch is due to the presence of the stylostome and usually is most intense within 1-2 days after the bite.
- The itching persists for several days, and complete resolution of the skin lesions can take up to two weeks.
- If multiple bites are present, the condition may be mistaken for eczema or allergic contact dermatitis. A history of outdoor activity can suggest that chigger bites are the cause of itching and characteristic skin changes.
What home remedies and OTC medications ease itching and pain from chigger bites?
Many home remedies for chigger bites are based upon the incorrect belief that chiggers burrow into and remain in the skin. Nail polish, alcohol, and bleach have been applied to the bites to attempt to get rid of the chiggers by "suffocating" or killing the chiggers. However, because the chiggers are not present in the skin, these methods are not effective. Home remedies to help relieve the itching associated with chigger bites may help some people. These can include
- Taking a cool shower or applying cool compresses
- Sitting in a cool bath
- Using bath products that contain colloidal oatmeal
- Using certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications
OTC medicine for chigger bites
Treatment for chigger bites is directed toward relieving the itching and inflammation. Calamine lotion and corticosteroid creams may be used to control itching. Oral antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), may also be used for symptom relief.
Chigger bites themselves do not produce any long-term complications. However, because of the intense itching, prolonged scratching may lead to skin wounds that may become infected by bacteria. Chiggers in North America are not known to carry any diseases, unlike some other arthropods.
How can you prevent from getting chigger bites?
- Washing with soap and water after outdoor activity may remove any chiggers that may be migrating on the skin and prevent their bites. Likewise, washing clothing that was worn outdoors in hot water will kill any chiggers remaining on the clothing.
- Attention to the outdoor temperature can help with prevention of chigger bites. Chiggers do not bite at colder temperatures (below 60 F or 15.5 C). Chiggers also are not found in areas hotter than 99 F or 37.2 C, so hot rocky areas on sunny days can provide chigger-free seats.
- As with mosquito bites, proper outdoor clothing can help prevent chigger bites. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts as well as thick socks and high shoes or boots can help prevent infestation. Pants legs should be tucked into shoes or boots if possible.
- All mosquito repellents (such as DEET), applied to skin and clothing, are effective at repelling chiggers.
Daily Health News
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Chiggers - Symptoms and Signs
What were the symptoms and signs of your chigger bites?Post View 49 Comments
Chiggers - Treatment
What treatment has been effective for your chigger bites?Post View 100 Comments
Chigger Bites - Prevention
Please share tips for preventing chigger infestations and bites.Post View 13 Comments
Top Chiggers (Bites) Related Articles
Bugs & Bites SlideshowWhat do bed bug bites look like? See spider bite pictures and learn how to identify bug bites from mosquitos, bees, bed bugs, wasps, and more. See what their bites & stings look like and how to treat bug bites.
Bug Bites and StingsBug bites and stings have been known to transmit insect-borne illnesses such as West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Lyme disease. Though most reactions to insect bites and stings are mild, some reactions may be life-threatening. Preventing bug bites and stings with insect repellant, wearing the proper protective attire, and not wearing heavily scented perfumes when in grassy, wooded, and brushy areas is key.
calamine lotion-topicalcalamine and zinc oxide (Calamine Lotion) is a mixture of components used to relieve the itching and pain from poison oak, poison ivy, poison sumac, sunburns, and insect and bug bites. Side effects, drug interactions, dosage, and storage should be reviewed prior to using this medication.
Chiggers PictureThe larvae of one type of mites, of the family Trombiculidae. See a picture of Chiggers and learn more about the health topic.
First AidFirst aid is a complicated subject and it is situation-specific. First aid is defined as the help and medical assistance someone a sick or injured person. Preparedness is key to first aid, like having basic medical emergency kits in your
- boat, or
- puncture wounds,
- strains, and
- heart attacks,
- seizures, and
- heat stroke
First Aid EssentialsAre you always prepared for a first aid crisis? See which basic first aid items to pack to treat minor scrapes, cuts, and stings when you're on the go.
Insect Sting AllergiesThe majority of stinging insects in the United States are from bees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, and fire ants. Severity of reactions to stings varies greatly. Avoidance and prompt treatment are essential. In selected cases, allergy injection therapy is highly effective.
ItchItching can be a common problem. Itches can be localized or generalized. There are many causes of itching to include: infection (jock itch, vaginal itch), disease (hyperthyroidism, liver or kidney), reactions to drugs, and skin infestations (pubic or body lice). Treatment for itching varies depending on the cause of the itch.
Objects Or Insects In EarObjects or insects in the ear can be placed in the ear by patients themselves, or an insect crawling in the ear. Ear wax can also cause ear problems if Q-tips are overused to clean the ears. Symptoms of an object in the ear are inflammation and sensitivity, redness, or discharge of pus or blood. When to seek medical care for an object or insect in the ear is included in the article information.
Summer Skin QuizWhen it comes to summer, there plenty of hazards under the sun! Take the Summer Skin Hazards Quiz and clue in on the dangers to your summer skin!
Summer Skin HazardsDon't let spider bites, sunburn, poison ivy, chigger bites, and jellyfish stings sabotage your healthy skin. Learn how you can stay safe and still enjoy summertime fun.
TicksTicks are known transmitters of disease to humans and animals. Tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Q fever, tularemia, babesiosis, and Southern tick-associated rash illness. Infected ticks spread disease once they've bitten a host, allowing the pathogens in their saliva and mouth get into the host's skin and blood. Tick bites are typically painless, but the site of the bite may later itch, burn, turn red, and feel painful. Individuals allergic to tick bites may develop a rash, swelling, shortness of breath, numbness, or paralysis. Tick bite treatment involves cleaning and applying antibiotic cream.
Travel MedicineTravelers should prepare for their trip by visiting their physician to get the proper vaccinations and obtain the necessary medication if they have a medical condition or chronic disease. Diseases that travelers may pick up from contaminated water or food, insect or animal bites, or from other people include:
- meningococcal meningitis,
- yellow fever,
- hepatitis A,
- typhoid fever,
- polio, and
Typhus is a disease caused by Rickettsia bacteria. Symptoms and signs include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and rash. Antibiotics are recommended as the treatment for endemic and epidemic typhus infections.