Outdoor activities are healthy, but sometimes they result in unpleasant experiences such as bites from mosquitoes, wasps, or chiggers. These microscopic bugs aren't usually dangerous, but their bite can leave their victims with a powerful urge to scratch.
Trombiculid mites go by numerous names, including harvest mites, bugs, or lice, mower's mites, red bugs, and chiggers. These minuscule members of Arachnida, the same genetic classification as spiders and ticks, are no more than 0.3 millimeters long and usually aren't visible without a magnifying glass.
Chiggers live in every country. They thrive in moist, grassy areas such as fields and forests, and are often found near lakes and streams. It is the babies or larvae that bite, not the adults. Newly hatched babies do not fly and cannot travel very far on their own. They tend to stay bunched together in large groups on leaves and grass, usually less than a foot off the ground. They travel by attaching to passing animals or people. Chiggers are active when the ground temperature is between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit and die when it gets colder than 42 degrees.
When the chigger latches on clothing, it crawls around until it finds a patch of skin. Once there, the bug uses sharp, jaw-like claws to make tiny holes in the skin, into which they inject saliva that liquefies skin cells and makes them consumable by the chigger. The tiny bugs can remain on the skin for several days.
Chigger bites are usually found on areas of thickened skin, such as wrinkles and folds of the armpits, back of the knee, and groin. Sometimes the ankles are targeted as well. Other common areas include places where the compression of clothing such as belts prevents the bugs from crawling further.
Humans are unlikely to notice when the chigger latches onto the skin or bites, though most people report they begin experiencing symptoms within a few hours of being bitten. Usually, the most problematic symptoms of chigger bites are intense itching and a desire to scratch. Chigger bites in the genital area can cause severe itching, swelling, and even painful urination.
A person who thinks they have been bitten by chiggers should wash the area with soap and water to get rid of any bugs still latched onto the body. Applying an antiseptic to any welts can help ease the itching and discomfort. As much as possible, people should avoid scratching the area, as this can further increase the urge to scratch and cause infection. Over-the-counter anti-itch medications and ice packs can also alleviate itchiness.
It is best to avoid hot baths and showers when experiencing chigger bite welts. If the bites become infected or the symptoms do not improve, see a doctor for prescription medication. A common myth states chiggers can burrow into the skin, and some people may try to remove them. However, this is not true, and one should never dig into the site of a bite, as this can traumatize the skin and lead to an infection.
Chigger bites may be uncomfortable, itchy, and annoying and can make sleep difficult until the symptoms pass. However, they are not ultimately dangerous — chiggers do not feed on blood and they do not transmit disease. The most serious complication of chigger bites is an infection from a lack of appropriate follow-up care. Anyone who has welts or bites on their body who develops swelling, a fever, or other signs of infection should see a doctor.
The most common times of the year for chigger bites are spring, summer, and fall. If possible, avoid wooded areas during these times, or check online resources to determine if chigger infestations have been recorded. Anyone who does enter forested areas should take care to minimize access to bare skin by tucking shirts into pants and pants into socks and walking in the center of paths rather than brushing against vegetation.
Wear long sleeves to avoid chigger bites on the arms, and avoid wearing shorts and sandals in wooded areas during problematic seasons. Always use insect and tick repellent when outside, and focus the spray on the tops of boots, shirt neck, cuffs, and waistband. If walking through an area that may be infected, try to shower with soap and warm water as soon as you get home, and soak clothes in hot water as well.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.