Chig-whats? Chiggers are microscopic bright red mites that are so small a person does not even notice they have been “bitten” until about 12 to 24 hours later when they develop a red itchy rash. Chiggers do not “bite” in the usual sense but instead attach themselves to the skin and inject their saliva to break down the skin cells to use as food. Chiggers can live for days on our skin unless washed or knocked off which is a great reason to always take a shower after spending the day outside in the woods or going on a hike.
Chiggers live in forests or grassy fields and thrive in moist areas such as those found around lakes or rivers. They climb or land on a hiker’s pants cuffs and shirt sleeves then find their way to a desired location on the skin. Chiggers prefer thin skin folds so bites are common around the ankles, backs of knees, armpits, crotches and belt lines.
The first symptom of chigger bites is itching which begins several hours after being bitten. The itch becomes increasingly intense and unrelenting. Later, the area develops flat or raised red pustules that can blister. It may take up to two weeks for the itching to stop and the skin to clear.
Treatment for chiggers is aimed at relieving itching and reducing inflammation. Calamine lotion or over the counter steroid cream are commonly used and spray on Benadryl may offer some relief. Oral anti-histamines can be taken for more severe itching. Secondary skin infections from severe scratching to areas can occur and bite areas should be watched for more redness or swelling then seen by a medical doctor if needed.
People have posted in forums various treatments that they felt relieved the unbearable itch of chigger bites. People have reported mixed results using the same products but if the itching is driving you crazy, they may be worth a try. One person reported ‘Chiggerex Plus’, which has benzocaine in it helped them. A number of people felt that nail polish painted on the bites were helpful while others didn’t think it made any difference. A few people reported using Windex or another ammonia product on the bites worked. Others reported vinegar or apple cider vinegar did the trick.
Since chiggers are easily are rubbed off, washing with warm soapy water after hiking is important. Interestingly, chiggers are also temperature sensitive so are less likely to be around if the weather is colder, under 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or very hot over 99 degrees. It is best to wear long pants and long sleeve shirts when hiking and tuck the pant legs into thick socks or boots. Finally, insecticides that contain DEET will repel chiggers.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles