What is a chigger and what is the treatment for a chigger bite? A chigger is a very tiny red parasitic larva of the harvest or scrub mite (also known as red mite) and is a threat to birds, reptiles, and a variety of mammals including humans. The nymph and adult form of the harvest mite are generally not a problem for humans. However, it is the larvae or chiggers that cause skin and health problems. A chigger is not an insect but rather an arachnid and therefore part of the spider family.
Chiggers are found in grassy fields, berry patches, along lakes, creeks, and streams, and in forests. Any damp area with a lot of vegetation is a prime area for a chigger. When a chigger hatches it tends to migrate to tall grass or other vegetation, which makes it easier to jump onto its victim. Early autumn and late summer is the most likely time for a chigger bite and the need for a treatment for chigger bite. More information on chiggers can be found below.
The chigger requires nutrients in order to proceed to the nymph stage. It does this by feeding on animals and humans. For humans, the chiggers attach themselves to a skin pore or hair follicle and inject a digestive enzyme into the skin that breaks down the skin cells. The skin reacts to this process by hardening the skin cells on all sides and as a result a hard tube like structure called a stylostome is formed. The stylostome is essentially like a feeding tube. The chiggers suck up the skin cell fluid through this tube. During the time that they are attached to the skin they continuously inject saliva to liquefy more tissue and subsequently continue to suck. This whole process leads to a variety of skin conditions and therefore a treatment for chigger bite is required.
After the chiggers are finished feeding, which may take from one to several days but commonly three to four days, they leave their hosts and develop into nymphs.
Chiggers enjoy moist and concealed areas and therefore are usually found attached to skin under wristwatches, socks, underwear, or any other tight clothing area. They tend to be found in the groin and armpit areas as well as around the waste, ankles, behind the knees, and anyplace that warm skin folds exist. A chigger bite is most likely to occur in areas where the skin is thin and any spot where the chigger may be impeded from moving further on the body.
A treatment for a bite from a chigger is often required to ease the symptoms that occur after a bite. Within a few hours after a chigger bite, extremely intense skin itching will be experienced. This is accompanied by the appearance of red bumps on the skin. As time goes on, more and larger bumps, hives, or welts become evident. The itching and other symptoms usually get worse and last a long time because the chigger is constantly injecting the saliva into the skin in order to feed and the skin reacts to this saliva.
Once the chigger is done feeding after a few days, it falls off. However, the feeding tube structure is left behind. The tube is characterized by a red welt with a white, hard central area, which may develop into dermatitis. What people usually notice in the center of the hive is the tube and not the body of the chigger.
The stylostome or feeding tube continues to irritate the skin even after the chigger has left. The skin continues to intensely itch and contain hives or welts. The longer the chigger was able to feed, the deeper the feeding tube and consequently the greater the severity of the symptoms. The symptoms caused by the stylostome can continue for two to three weeks. Scratching the dried cap off the top of the stylostome will result in some liquid oozing out and possible infection.
Chigger bites are often confused with chicken pox. However, location of the hives usually rules out chicken pox because chicken pox tend to occur all over the body. Chigger bites target more specific areas of the body.
In terms of diseases, chiggers in North America usually do not transmit diseases and a standard treatment for chigger bite is all that is required. However, in East Asia and the South Pacific regions, a bite from a chigger can lead to scrub typhus (also known as Japanese river disease, scrub disease, or tsutsugamushi). Symptoms of this disease include fever, headache, muscle pain, cough, and gastrointestinal problems.
Bite Prevention Tips
A treatment for a bite from a chigger is not required if proper prevention steps are followed. Insect repellents such as those containing Deet should be used on the skin and on clothing. In particular, apply repellent to the ankles, wrists, neck, and waist areas. Sulphur is a proven repellent for chiggers, but may irritate the skin of some individuals.
Ensure you wear long pants, long sleeved shirts, socks, and shoes when in areas where chiggers may be present. Clothes should be made of tightly woven fabric and worn loosely.
Avoid areas with long grass or weeds and keep lawns mowed.
After being outside in areas where chiggers may be present, take a hot soapy shower immediately after returning in order to remove chiggers before they attach to the skin. Wash clothing in hot water in order to kill any lingering chiggers.
Treatment for Chigger Bite
The best possible treatment for a bite is to remove the chigger right away. This will lessen the severity and length of time that the symptoms will be experienced. Chiggers can be removed by taking a shower in warm soapy water. Even light rubbing of the skin with a towel or cloth is enough to remove the chiggers.
Itching, hives or welts, and skin redness can be relieved by following the usual treatments for these symptoms. Therefore, for a standard treatment for chiggar bite, visit the mosquito bite treatment page. These treatments basically involve the use of hydrocortisone creams or antihistamines. There are also commercially available products as specific treatments for chiggar bites.
Time is the best treatment for chiggar bite. The feeding tube is what creates a lot of the symptoms and it cannot be removed. However, eventually the body breaks down the skin tissue that forms the tube and the healing begins. This process can take from 10 days to three weeks.
Because of the intense itching and scratching, skin infections can occur due to the skin becoming abraded. If signs of infection are present such as growing areas of redness, pain, inflamed and hot skin, appearance of puss, and fever, then a physician should be consulted immediately. Therefore, using an effective treatment for chigger bite is very important.
Some people require a more complex treatment for a bite from a chigger because they experience an allergic reaction to the bite. Signs of a severe allergic reaction can include trouble breathing, tightness in the throat or chest, feeling faint, dizziness, hives, and/or nausea and vomiting. In these cases, the treatment for chigger bite requires a visit to the emergency room or physician as soon as possible.
More information on bug or insect bites and stings on skin and treatments are provided below: