Chiggers are members of the arachnid family. They are extremely tiny, and my guess is you won’t even see them as they jump from the tall grass onto your skin and/or clothing. Adult chiggers are about 1/60 of an inch and have eight legs. The larvae are red, wingless, six-legged creatures that measure less than 1/150 of an inch. Because of their red color, you might be able to spot the larvae when they cluster together, especially on white clothing.
Where Can Chiggers Be Found?
Chiggers reside in tall weeds and grass, berry patches, and wooded areas. They could be in your backyard, by the lake, or your favorite hiking trail. They are most active on summer and fall afternoons – the warmest part of the day.
How Chiggers Bite
Only the larvae bite humans. They tend to choose warm, moist areas of the body. Chiggers have claws that help them grab onto your skin. The chigger then attaches its mouth to the skin and injects saliva. The saliva contains an enzyme that breaks skin cells down to liquid form. Your body responds by hardening skin cells around the saliva, creating a tube (stylostome) through which the chigger sucks the dissolved skin cells. Chiggers can stay attached and feeding for several days before falling off.
When the chigger falls off, you are left with reddish bumps. You may notice a bright red dot in the center — this is a remnant of the tube your skin formed in response to the chigger’s saliva. The bumps may look like welts, blisters, pimples, or hives. Bites generally appear in groups and get larger for several days to a week. While many insects bite exposed skin that’s easy to get to, chiggers like to bite in folds of skin as well as places where clothing fits tightly on the skin. Most chigger bites occur around the ankles, waist, armpits, crotch, or behind the knees.
Home Remedies for Chigger Bites
Just remember, that no matter what, DO NOT SCRATCH THE BITES! I know, easier said than done. But, breaking the skin on a chigger bite can lead to infection.
Here are 5 home remedies that will help with the itching and swelling.
1. Vicks Vapor Rub
Vicks Vapor Rub can put an end to itchy chigger bites immediately. It’s the cooling menthol in it that relieves itching by affecting itch receptors in the skin. It will even reduce the risk of blisters.
- Take a hot shower (use antibacterial soap.) Pat dry your skin with a soft towel.
- Take a small amount of the vapor rub and add some table salt to it.
- Mix well and apply to the affected area.
- Repeat if the swelling continues (otherwise there is no need to repeat the process)
2. Cold Compress
A cold compress can help reduce the itching associated with chigger bites. Its numbing effect helps reduce the sensation of itchiness.
- Wrap some ice cubes in a thin cloth.
- Apply the compress to the bites for 10 minutes. Repeat if needed to relieve itching.
3. Baking Soda
Baking soda is another effective remedy to reduce rashes as well as itchiness. It acts as a natural acid neutralizer that helps relieve itching. It even reduces the risk of infection.
- Add 1 cup of baking soda to a bathtub filled with cool water.
- Stir well and soak in this water for 15 minutes and pat your skin with a soft towel. (Do this once daily)
Another remedy using baking soda:
- Prepare a thin paste of 2 teaspoons of baking soda and a little water.
- Apply the paste on the affected areas and leave it on for about 10 minutes.
- Rinse it off with cool water.
Note: Do not use this remedy more than once or twice a day. Never use baking soda on broken skin or open wounds.
Oatmeal contains anti-irritating, anti-inflammatory and soothing properties that provide instant relief from itching, one of the common symptoms of chigger bites. It is recommended to use colloidal oatmeal, meaning oats that are ground into an extremely fine powder. (You can accomplish this yourself by grinding regular oats in a sealed Ziploc bag, using the back side of a spoon to crush the oatmeal.)
- Add 1 cup of colloidal oatmeal to a bathtub filled with warm water
- Stir thoroughly
- Soak in this mixture for at least 15-20 minutes
- Repeat 2-3 times a day
5. Olive Oil
Olive oil can also be used to get relief from the irritation and inflammation. It is rich in vitamin E and antioxidants that reduce itching and facilitate healing.
- After rinsing the affected area with water, apply olive oil to the chigger bite.
- Reapply several times a day.
Another option using olive oil:
- Mix a few drops of tea tree oil in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and apply on the affected area.
- Repeat a few times a day.
As summer and fall are prime time for chigger bites, it is best to take the following precautions:
- When hiking, avoid brushing up against vegetation. Try to stay in the center of the trail.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants when going into the woods. (Consider tucking your pants into your socks for additional protection.)
- Apply mosquito repellent on your hands, feet, and exposed skin on your arms before going outside. (When applying mosquito repellent to your hands, I recommend applying it with a cotton ball and apply ONLY to the top of your hands and NOT the palms of your hands.)
- Shower immediately after being outdoors; use antibacterial soap.
- Wash your clothes in hot water.
- Resist the urge to scratch – breaking the skin on chigger bites can lead to a possible infection.