The chigger is a small mite that can wreck havoc on our skin. Intense itching will cause you to never forget the chigger. Prevention is the key, especially when walking in tall grass.

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Chigger mites are of the Trombiculid family which undergo seven stages of their life cycle. The adult chigger does not feed on the host. It is always the larvae and it does not feed on blood. The larvae stage feeds on the lymph and dermis and it is this bite that causes the allergic response of intense itching and the appearance of red dots on your skin. They congregate in groups in grassy areas and subsequently bite in groups. They typically feed on humans for about 3-8 hours. They will migrate to the thinest area of skin as it is easier to get to their meal. This would be anterior legs over the Tibia, over bones of the foot, on genitalia and behind the knees and arm pits.

It should be noted in the United States chiggers do not transmit disease, however, other species can transmit Scrub Typhus. This is very common in China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand.

Chigger Bite Presentation

Bites present as small, red, macular (flattened) or papular(raised) eruptions and are very pruritic (itchy). They are often in groups and clusters and frequently confused with flea bites. This is when the history is very important. Have they been around pets? Have they been camping, hiking etc.?  Chiggers do not bury under the skin, however, they are very difficult to see with the naked eye. They are often identifiable with a magnifying lens.

Chigger Bite Treatment

  1. Before going into the outdoors, spray DEET on your skin – not on your clothes. If you know the area may be endemic to chiggers from past experiences, use permethrin on your clothes and even on your footprint for your tent.
  2. If you are bitten by chiggers, applying a cool wash cloth over the area can help. Calamine lotion is cooling and soothing, however, topical steroid cream (Hydrocortisone) is better and more potent when covered with a bandage or clothing after application. Covering prevents evaporation.
  3. Antihistamines should be in your outdoor medical kit. Zyrtec has been found to be more effective than Claritin although it is more sedating. Benadryl at bedtime can also help.
  4. If possible, wash your clothes in hot water or at least dry them on high heat. Doing this will kill any larvae.
  5. Complications are usually due to secondary infection from scratching and can cause a cellulite (skin infection). If this occurs, you will need an antibiotic.