Chiggers are larvae of a type of mites called Trombiculidae. They feed on human or animal skin to which they attach, destroying the tissue with their digestive enzymes. Trombiculid mites are arachnids found in gardens, lawns, orchards, forests, on the banks of rivers and lakes. They are so widely spread that spending time outdoors, especially during the summer, can be very frustrating because of their bites.
Difference between chiggers and mosquitoes
Unlike mosquitoes, chiggers do not feed on the blood. Their digestive enzymes destroy the skin tissue so the chiggers can feed on it. It is the enzymes that cause uncomfortable symptoms of chigger bites, such as itching, redness, rash and hives. The bites are usually located around the ankles, but also in or around the armpits, waist, groin area and basically any skin fold where the skin is soft and thin and easy to penetrate.
Treatment for chigger bites
Chigger bites are not dangerous and they do not cause or transmit any serious disease. However, their symptoms can be very uncomfortable and they should be relieved, especially because scratching can damage the skin and cause an infection. Redness, swelling and itching can be alleviated with topical medication, which can be obtained over the counter. Those remedies include Hydrocortisone creams or benzyl benzoate. Corticosteroids can also be used. Antihistamines are medications used to treat allergic reactions and in case of chigger bites they can relieve the rash or hives by inhibiting the release of histamines. Calamine lotion, hydrogen peroxide, ice packs, cold compresses and aloe vera gel can also be used.
Since chigger bites do make small openings in the skin, it is recommended to wash the area with water and mild soap.
Myths about chigger bites remedies
The common mistake many people make when it comes to chigger bites is the application of nail polish, acetone or even bleach to the affected area. It is believed that chiggers burrow into the skin and that they need to be killed and removed by using those products. The truth is that by the time the symptoms appear, the chigger is already gone and there is no point in irritating and possibly damaging the skin with harsh chemical products.
Prevention of chigger bites
The best way to deal with chigger bites, especially for people who live in chigger-infested areas, is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Wearing long sleeves and pants, high socks and boots while spending time outdoors can help against chigger bites, while insect repellents should be applied on uncovered parts of the body.