What are chiggers?
Chiggers (trombiculidae) are a species of mite, and are a close relative to spiders and ticks. Chiggers are microscopic and are almost invisible to the naked eye. Once chiggers hatch from eggs (larva), the mites feed on the skin tissue of a host (human or animal) before falling off and turning into an adult mite. Found around the world, chiggers live outdoors on plants in wooded or grassy areas, typically around water. They are most active during the summer months when temperatures are hot.
What are chigger bites?
Chigger larva will attach to your clothing and move to your skin to feed. The chigger larva will release a liquid chemical into your skin to kill skin cells (digestive enzyme). The dead skin cells form a tiny straw (stylostome) for the chigger to drink your skin tissue. The chigger’s chemical causes itching that is very intense for the first 24-48 hours before slowly going away over the next two weeks. Chiggers will fall off of your skin if you begin to scratch.
Who do chigger bites affect?
Chigger bites can affect anyone who might pick chiggers up on their clothing outdoors in grassy, wet or wooded areas.
Where do chiggers bite?
Chiggers live in grass or wooded areas and attach to your clothing. Their favorite sites to feed are areas where your skin and clothing have close contact, especially at waistbands, bra lines and sock lines, or where your skin folds. Common areas where chiggers bite include:
- Lower legs.
- Behind your knees.
How common are chigger bites?
Chigger bites are very common in the summer months when temperatures are warm to hot. Many people don’t report chigger bites, so the actual number of cases is unknown.
How do chigger bites affect my body?
You probably won't notice chigger bites right away. It could take up to three hours after the mite makes contact with your skin before you experience any symptoms. Chigger bites cause itching near the bite zone.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of chigger bites?
Symptoms of chigger bites include:
- Speckled line of red spots or pimples on your skin.
- Bites located where clothing tightly fits on your body.
- Severe itch.
How do you get chigger bites?
You can get a chigger bite if you walk through an area where chiggers live, including:
- Overgrown fields of grass.
- Wooded areas.
- Moist soil near water.
- Areas with high humidity (80% or over).
Chiggers will attach to your clothing and move onto your skin, where they bite.
Diagnosis and Tests
How are chigger bites diagnosed?
Your provider will diagnose chigger bites after a visual examination based on the pattern of the bite (in a line) and the location (where tight-fitting clothing rests). If you recall where you were when the bites occurred, specifically outdoors in grassy, wet or wooded areas, it will help diagnose this condition.
Management and Treatment
How are chigger bites treated?
Because chiggers don't burrow into your skin and the rash usually starts after the mites have already detached from the skin, treatment specifically to remove the mites isn't needed. Instead, treatment for chigger bites focuses on alleviating itchiness, including:
- Using topical creams or lotion (calamine lotion).
- Taking diphenhydramine (Benadryl ®) or other antihistamines.
- Taking an anti-parasite medication (permethrin).
- Applying a cold compress.
- Cleaning the affected area of skin with soap and water regularly.
If severe itching causes an infection, where the skin turns red, swells or leaks pus, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics.
How long do chigger bites last?
The itchiness is most intense during the first 24-48 hours after the bite. Symptoms will slowly go away and stop after two weeks.
Is there a home remedy to treat chigger bites?
Chigger bites can be treated at home by using an over-the-counter anti-itch cream like calamine lotion and/or taking antihistamines to reduce itching. Chiggers don't burrow into your skin, so there is no need for any other at-home remedies.
How soon after treatment will I feel better?
You will feel relief immediately through the use of anti-itch creams or antihistamines, but the symptoms can last for up to two weeks, lessening in severity over time.
How can I reduce my risk of getting chigger bites?
You can prevent chigger bites by:
- Wearing protective clothing when outdoors (long sleeve shirts, tall socks, long pants tucked into boots).
- Prior to outdoor activities, treat clothing with insecticides to repel insects and mites.
- Using a bug spray or mosquito repellant.
- Avoiding outdoor activities near grassy, wet and wooded areas in the summer during warm temperatures.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have chigger bites?
You can expect to have itchy skin at the site of the bite, which you will find where clothing is tightly fit on your skin, especially at sock lines and waistbands on pants. Chigger bites usually resolve on their own within a few days but can last up to two weeks.
How do I take care of myself if I have chigger bites?
After a bite, be sure to treat the affected area with an anti-itch cream or lotion to prevent itching. You might want to trim your fingernails to avoid skin tears and further irritation if you feel the need to scratch. You should wash your clothing in hot water or treat it with pyrethroid insecticides.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
You should seek care from your healthcare provider if:
- Itchiness is causing extreme discomfort.
- The bites turn into open wounds due to itching.
- The itching doesn't go away after two weeks.
- Your skin around the bite swells or leaks pus (infected).
What questions should I ask my doctor?
- Do I need to use an anti-parasite medication?
- What types of creams or lotions do you recommend to stop the itching?
- Should I take antihistamines to stop the itching?
Frequently Asked Questions
What do chiggers look like?
Chiggers are also called “red bugs” and share some similarities to spiders (arachnids). Identifying factors of a chigger include:
- Extremely small (averaging at .3 millimeters).
- Yellow or orange in the larva stage and bright red as an adult.
- Six legs as a larva or eight legs as an adult.
What is the difference between chigger bites and bed bug bites, flea bites and mosquito bites?
Chiggers, bed bugs, fleas and mosquitos are all different types of bugs that can bite and irritate your skin.
- Chigger bites: Chigger bites form in a line around the seams of tight-fitting clothing and appear as red spots or pimples that are very itchy.
- Bed bug bites: Bed bugs will bite you anywhere that's in contact with your bed (including your arms, legs, face and back). They leave a series of red bumps on your skin that start as a burning or painful sensation that’s followed by itchiness.
- Flea bites: Fleas will bite in a zig-zag pattern on your skin, especially on your legs and waist. Flea bites appear as small red dots that are itchy and sore.
- Mosquito bites: Mosquitos will pierce your skin and leave a red bump that is itchy. Mosquito bites usually occur on exposed skin (arms and legs) not treated with mosquito repellant.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Often, preventing chigger bites is easier said than done. These microscopic bugs attach to your clothing and cause itching that might damper your outdoor activities. Thankfully, chiggers easily fall off of your skin at the first sign of an itch, and the symptoms decrease in severity after the first 24 to 48 hours. Treat the bite with an anti-itch cream to alleviate any discomfort.
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