What are Chiggers?
Chiggers are the juvenile form of a trombiculid mite. They are found in forests, grassy fields, gardens, parks and around lakes and rivers. Chiggers require a high level of humidity for survival so they are typically found on plants that are relatively close to the surface of the ground. They have six legs, are red in color, and are less than 1/150th of an inch in length barely visible to the naked eye.
Chigger season runs from May through October.
Chiggers like to take a hike on your pant cuffs, shirt sleeves or collars when you come in contact with vegetation. They will then migrate onto your skin to feed. If left alone, a chigger may feed for a few days.
When a chigger feeds, it injects enzymes into your skin that causes destruction of the tissue. Then it feeds upon the dead tissue. Your skin will react by hardening the cells around the chigger’s saliva path into a tubular structure called a stylostome. It’s your body’s reaction to the stylostome that causes the symptoms.
Chigger bites are not noticed immediately it usually takes about 1-3 hours for the following symptoms to begin:
Pronounced itching which may become most intense 1-2 days after the bite.
The area of the bite will be reddened and either flat or raised. It can also resemble a pustule or blister.
Itching can persist for several days and skin lesions can last for up to two weeks.
To treat chigger bites you need to use a product that will relieve the itching and inflammation. Products that include an antihistamine such as diphenhydramine may relieve symptoms. Hydrocortisone products may also offer itch relief.
Chigger bites have not been shown to cause any long-term complications, but the intense itching may lead to prolonged scratching. Scratching may lead to skin wounds which become a risk for skin infections. If you’ve been bitten, don’t be tempted to try home remedies involving toxic substances, and don’t try to remove the stylostome. Either could cause secondary infections or other injuries.
No matter what product you decide to use to relieve the symptoms, there is nothing you can do to dislodge the stylostome. Therefore there is no “cure” for chigger bites, you need to give your body time to heal.
Tips to help prevent chiggers:
A hot shower with plenty of soap after outdoor activities will kill chiggers.
If you are away from home, rubbing your skin with a moist towel or cloth may remove any chiggers.
Stay on marked trails and away from tall weeds, brush and heavy undergrowth.
Wash clothing that has been worn outdoors in hot, soapy water. The hot water and soap will kill the chiggers, but they can survive cold or warm water washes.
Temperature affects chiggers. They do not like temperatures below 60°F or above 99°F.
Wear proper clothing such as long pants and long sleeve shirts as well as thick socks or high shoes and boots. Tucking pant legs into shoes or boots help.
Use an insect repellent that contains DEET. Be certain to follow the instructions precisely.
Never use flea collars to try to repel chiggers or any other pest – the chemicals in flea collars can burn or irritate human skin.