How to Treat Chigger Bites

As winter releases its cold grip on the outside world, flowers bloom, pollen enters your nose and, sadly, insects come out to play. Insect bites are among the biggest drawbacks of the warmer months. There are so many to watch out for too: mosquitoes and ticks, spiders and fire ants, and more.

A lesser known but no less annoying pesky species is the chigger, a species of mite in the arachnid family. (Yes, that means they are related to spiders).

What are chigger stings?

Chiggers are only really of concern to humans in the larval stage, according to Daniel Joseph Edwards, MS, aquatic ecologist and entomologist at Louisiana Tech University. When they hatch from their eggs in wooded or grassy areas, they are hungry and want to feed on the skin tissue of other species. So when you go hiking in your cute Outdoor Voices shorts, your exposed shins are really delicious.

The problem is, you might not know you’re having lunch. Chiggers are super small and barely visible to the naked eye, if at all, says Edwards, who regularly encounters chiggers during her field research. “A common misconception is that they burrow into the skin,” says Edwards. “Instead, they attach to humans at the base of hairs or pores in the skin and inject saliva into the skin (but do not puncture the skin), then suck in dissolved skin tissue (not blood) “, he explains. This is different from ticks and mosquitoes, which actually suck your blood, or spiders and wasps, which sting or bite in self-defense.

You usually won’t see chigger tracks until they have fed on your skin tissue, fallen off, and gone their merry way. But they’re no polite guests: After eating, chiggers usually leave behind a series of red, itchy bumps or little welts where your skin reacts to their saliva.

So where on your body do you need to be most careful? “They tend to go anywhere the skin is softer or thinner, like behind the knee,” Edwards explains. “A lot of times they go where your clothes are tight, so if you’re wearing pants they can go into your underwear line or around your socks. They like to find those tough spots just because they feel a little safer.

This may sound like a major hiking buzzkill. But Edwards offers good news: “Chiggers in North America [are] not actually a disease vector, which is really important compared to things like ticks. It’s more just a nuisance pest,” he says.

How to Treat Chigger Bites

So if you get chigger bites after a day out in the great outdoors, what can you do? “Chigger bites can be quite uncomfortable and itchy, but there are several steps you can take to ease symptoms and promote healing,” says Noor Hanif Said, MBBS, MRCP, FAMS, senior dermatologist and medical director of Renaissance Derm . Here are the most important steps he recommends taking:

1. Clean the affected area and keep it dry

“As soon as you notice chigger bites, wash the area gently with soap and cold water to remove any remaining chiggers and reduce the risk of infection,” says Dr. Hanif. The sooner you do it, the more you can prevent further itching, Edwards says. And if you’ve covered any of the bites with bandages, change those bandages often to keep them clean, Dr. Hanif adds.

2. Apply a cold compress

If the welts are itchy and swollen, Dr. Hanif says covering them with a cold compress for 10 to 15 minutes (as often as needed throughout the day) can help relieve this discomfort.

3. Use over-the-counter treatments

Over-the-counter anti-itch creams or ointments containing ingredients like hydrocortisone or calamine lotion “can help soothe itching and reduce inflammation,” Dr. Hanif says.

But if creams and lotions don’t do the trick, you can also try taking an oral antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or loratadine (Claritin), he adds. This will help control the allergic reaction (read: itching).

4. Avoid scratching at all costs

“Chigger bites usually heal within one to two weeks if there are no complications,” says Dr. Hanif. However, this can be delayed by scratching, although it is very difficult to resist. “Scratching chigger bites can cause the skin to break, increasing the risk of infection and prolonging the healing process,” he explains. If you really can’t stop, at least keep your fingernails short to minimize the damage.

Of course, Dr. Hanif adds that if the bites “become infected or become excessively painful, or if you develop a fever or other signs of a more serious reaction,” make an appointment with a dermatologist or your provider. primary care for examination. by a professional.

How to Prevent Chigger Bites

If you want to avoid this itchy ordeal altogether, Edwards recommends dressing for your surroundings: wearing closed-toe shoes with socks and tucking your pants into your socks can help you avoid both chiggers and ticks if you are hiking or walking through tall grass. , he says.

Unfortunately, insect repellents are unlikely to be super effective. “You can apply Deet, permethrin, and other common insecticides,” says Edwards. “It’s not something I recommend to chiggers because I don’t find it works very well.”

A better bet? Avoid high risk areas. “For example, don’t walk through dense foliage, walk in the middle of the trail,” says Edwards. And when you get home, take a shower as soon as possible. “Rub your legs and anywhere else you had tight-fitting clothes (usually [the] lower half of the body). This way, you’ll get rid of any unwanted guests who might have hitchhiked that you didn’t intend to offer.

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