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What Is a Chigger (and How to Get Rid of Them?)

Nothing ruins a beautiful day faster than chiggers.

These nearly-microscopic pests thrive in warm temperatures and damp places, meaning they can survive in almost any part of the world. Their bites are maddeningly itchy. And where there’s one, there are dozens more.

Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to avoid these obnoxious bugs. And even if you get bitten, you can stop them from making the problem even worse.

Let’s dive into some simple tips to keep chiggers out of your life!

What Is a Chigger?

Chiggers are a species of mite. Like spiders and ticks, they belong to the arachnid family. Young chiggers, which are responsible for bites, are almost impossible to see. They typically measure less than one millimeter in length. But these tiny bugs pack a powerful itch!

According to Web MD, chiggers can be orange, yellow, red, or straw-colored. They live on every continent, making them difficult to avoid. The insects’ preferred environments are moist and grassy, making forests, fields, and lawns popular hiding spots. Areas close to lakes and streams are also more likely to contain chiggers.

These bugs are abundant during warm months and in temperate climates. Chigger season in the U.S. typically runs from spring to early fall. Web MD notes that they require a ground temperature of at least 77 degrees to thrive. Once the temperature drops below 42 degrees, chiggers die.

Pro Tip: We compared Essential Oil Versus Bug Spray to find out what works best while camping.

Little girl being sprayed in bug spray to prevent chiggers
Chiggers will often target, ankles, knees, and the groin area.

What Happens When They Bite You?

Contrary to popular belief, chiggers don’t burrow into the skin. However, what they actually do is almost creepier than that!

Young chiggers, or larvae, usually attach themselves to a piece of clothing. Once there, they seek out a patch of skin and “use sharp, jaw-like claws to make tiny holes,” according to Web MD. The mites then inject their saliva into these holes. The saliva causes skin cells to break down, creating chigger food. The process is enough to give you nightmares.

Most chigger bites occur on people’s legs or waists. Other common areas include ankles, behind the knees, and the groin. These bites are incredibly itchy, often more so than mosquito bites. They can present as small bumps, a rash, or as blisters.

Chigger bites usually resolve on their own within a week or two. But in rare circumstances, they can become a severe problem requiring medical attention.

Do Chigger Bites Require Medical Attention?

It’s nearly impossible to stop yourself from scratching a chigger bite. However, be careful. Scratching too much can cause bleeding or infection.

Another unpleasant possibility is a condition called summer penile syndrome. Summer penile syndrome occurs when chiggers bite on or near the skin of the penis. Symptoms can include difficulty urinating, swelling, and of course, itching.

Thankfully, these tiny mites don’t carry diseases. But in some parts of the world, they do harbor bacteria. This bacteria can cause scrub typhus, an infection that results in fever, headache, and body aches. 

Scrub typhus is usually mild but can become severe in some cases. People who receive chigger bites in Asia or Australia should seek medical attention if they develop these symptoms.

Rash on arm from chigger bites
While chigger bites won’t require a hospital visit, they sure are itchy!

What Is the Fastest Way to Get Rid of Chiggers?

If given the opportunity, chiggers stay attached to humans for multiple days. During this time, they feed and create those itchy welts. Make sure to perform a body check after spending time in forested areas or tall grass. Although they’re tiny, you may be able to see chiggers on your skin if you look for them.

At the first sign of chigger bites, remove any remaining chiggers from your body. Bathing or showering and scrubbing your body with soapy water will do the trick. Clothes, towels, and other fabric items that might be infested should be washed in hot water.

Over-the-counter medications such as hydrocortisone, calamine lotion, and antihistamines are great for keeping the itch at bay. A cold compress may also help.

Chigger bites heal relatively quickly. If your welts don’t go away within a week, a doctor might prescribe you a steroid or a stronger anti-itch medication. Infected bites may require a round of antibiotics.

Pro Tip: Keep your RV bug free by using these 5 Solutions to Keep Those Dang Bugs Out Of Your RV.

Can You Prevent Chigger Bites?

Chigger bites may not be serious, but they are annoying. Fortunately, there are many easy ways to reduce your risk of being bitten.

Bug sprays and repellents work just as well for chiggers as they do for mosquitoes. If you know you’re going to spend time outdoors, spray yourself down before going outside. Spraying both your skin (with skin-safe repellent) and your clothing will make the repellent more effective. 

Be aware of your surroundings when spending time outside. Avoid tall grass and other popular chigger hideouts during spring, summer, and early fall. And be sure to wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and long socks. Tucking your pants into your boots will help prevent them from getting into your clothes.

Don’t Let Chiggers Ruin Your Day

Chiggers can turn a peaceful hike or nature walk into an itchy nightmare. Avoiding these tiny pests can be a real struggle due to their size. But with some preparation and planning, you can return from your outdoor adventure itch-free. And even if you’re bitten, a quick shower and load of laundry will wash the rest of them away!

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