Chiggers — sometimes referred to as chigger bites — only bite and feed off of humans during the larvae stage of their development. Fully matured chiggers consume plants. Chiggers are mites that closely resemble ticks. They usually inhabit forests, grassy fields and land around lakes and rivers and require a high amount of humidity to live.
When you walk through vegetation that houses chiggers, these extraordinarily tiny mites can get onto your pant cuffs, shirt sleeves or collar. The mites then go in search of skin. Contrary to myth, chiggers do not burrow into your skin or drink your blood. They do, however, bite. Since the chigger’s mouth is delicate, it usually bites into skin depressions such a hair follicles or skin pores or where the skin is thin such as the groin areas, behind the knees and in the armpits. When the chigger bites, it inserts an enzyme into your skin that causes the skin tissue to liquefy. The surrounding skin hardens, forming a feeding tube for the mite called a stylostome. This enables the mite to suck up the liquefied tissue.
Chigger Bite Symptoms
Symptoms of a chigger bite usually appear between one and three hours after the chigger injects the enzyme into your skin. The stylostome causes itching for several days, the worst of which is experienced within the first one to two days after the bite. The bite area becomes red and may remain flat or become raised. Chigger bites occasionally resemble pustules or blisters. It can take up to two weeks after the chigger bite to completely heal.
Chigger Bite Treatments
If you suffer from chigger bites, topically apply calamine lotion and corticosteroid creams to relieve the itching. You can also orally take antihistamines such as diphenhydramine. However, stay away from home remedies for chigger bites that include applying nail polish, alcohol or bleach to the skin. These treatments rely on the false assumption that chiggers burrow into your skin and won’t soothe your discomfort. Prevent bites by wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts and boots when outside. Mosquito repellents also ward off chiggers.
Many chiggers never finish feasting on you because you scratch them or brush them away while they are feeding. Detaching them while they eat prevents them from being able to bite again. Since they can’t feed, they will starve to death. If chiggers have not bitten you yet, kill them by washing infected clothing in hot water and taking a hot, soapy bath. To eliminate the chiggers outdoors, keep your yard well groomed by clearing away brush and keeping the grass cut. For temporary relief, spray your yard with an insecticide that contains bifenthrin, carbaryl, cyhalothrin, or permethrin during the end of April or beginning of May. However, insecticides do not provide a long-term solution.