Treating and Preventing Chigger Bites

I grew up in the country crawling around in weeds and such as a kid. We were always warned we were going to get chigger bites, but never did I in my entire 38 years until this year. While mowing and working out at the land several weeks back, Jon and I and one of the boys got a bad case of chigger bites. I even got them twice. The second time was horrific and they even blistered. No chigger bites in 38 and years and now twice within a few weeks of each other!

What is a Chigger?

  • Chiggers are the larvae form of a certain type of mite.
Chigger and Mite Life Cycle
Photo Credit

  • Chiggers will typically bite in delicate areas of the skin like wrinkles, ankles, back of knees, crotch, and groin areas.
  • Chiggers may crawl and roam skin for sometime looking for the “ideal” spot to bite and feed.
  • Contrary to popular belief chiggers do not burrow under the skin. They insert a feeding tube into the skin that injects a digestive enzyme which decomposes the skin. Chiggers then feed on the decomposed skin.
  • Chiggers live in areas of overgrown vegetation and may be worse in damp conditions.

Symptoms of Chigger Bites

  • You cannot feel it at the time a chigger bites you.
  • The maddening itch from the chigger bite is caused by irritation from the feeding tube and digestive enzyme.
  • Symptoms typically begin 1-3 hours after injecting this enzyme.
  • The bite may be reddened, flat or raised, and sometimes even blister.
First Set of Chigger Bites (I Did Not Take Photos of the Bad Ones)
  • The itch may persist up to 2 weeks, but is the worst within 1-2 days after the bite.

Treatment of Chigger Bites

I have done extensive online research on treatments for chigger bites. Hydrocortisone cream does not do anything! Caladryl dulls the itch ever so slightly for maybe 15 mins. Benadryl knocks me out so I cannot take it except at bedtime. Two Benadryl helped me to sleep for 2-3 hours before waking up with insane itching. Painting each bite with clear finger nail polish helped considerably. It doesn’t have to be clear, but clear is just less noticeable. I’ve read several things on medical websites that says nail polish and other things to “smother” the chigger will not work because it is an old-wives tale that they are burrowed under the skin.

After talking to my Mama and Daddy several days after the first bites and before my second chigger bites they suggested salt and butter. The salt is a drying agent and the butter only serves the purpose of sticking the salt to the bitten area. They also said soaking my feet in warm water and Epsom salt. Again, the Epsom salt is a drying agent. Mama said the finger nail polish helped not because it was smothering the chigger but preventing air from getting in which causes a reaction. Well, I’m telling you regardless of the reason it helps enough to keep you from going insane!

So, I tried the salt and butter and it worked instantly! It is kind of messy. I looked like I had been walking on the beach with grit and sand all over me, but it worked. Why didn’t I just ask Mama first? As the salt fell off through the day, the itching started coming back. This may not be the easiest treatment if you have to go to work or out in public, but it works. I soaked my feet in warm water and Epsom salt before bed while watching a little TV. Then I used the clear finger nail polish while I slept (and at work).

I also scratched a couple of them too much and broke the skin on them. I didn’t want them to get infected. So I switched to oregano oil and salt. I used the oregano oil to stick the salt to the skin and the oregano oil also had a warm soothing effect. Additionally, oregano oil can be used as an antibiotic.

Prevent Chigger Bites

Proper outdoor clothing can help prevent chigger bites. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts as well as thick tall socks and high shoes or boots can help prevent infestation. Pants legs should be tucked into shoes or boots when possible.

Chiggers do not bite at colder temperatures (below 60 F or 15.5 C). Chiggers also are not found in areas hotter than 99 F or 37.2 C.

Immediately, washing with soap and water after outdoor activity may remove any chiggers that are still migrating on the skin and prevent their bites. Likewise, immediately wash clothing that was worn outdoors to kill any chiggers remaining on the clothing. Do not leave unwashed clothes just laying around in the house for a long time or you may get a chigger infestation inside your home.

Now, I’m sure some of the naturalist’s heads may explode over this, but using a strong deep woods DEET bug repellent on the exposed skin can help prevent chiggers, ticks, etc.  Be sure to read that it repels chiggers as some do not say and may only prevent mosquitoes.  And lastly and our most successful prevention, spray your clothes, socks, and boots with a product containing Permethrin like Sawyer’s with Permethrin. You can find it in the camping section at Walmart or sporting goods stores and also at Amazon. You should spray it on your clothes the day before so that it can completely dry. It typically lasts for up to 6 weeks or 6 washings. Not only does it repel chiggers and ticks, but it kills them too. We sprayed the inside of Jon’s truck because it had become infested and it got rid of all of them. As with anything, please read any directions and warnings with DEET and Permethrin bug repellents and use them wisely and as intended. I don’t like to use excessive amounts of chemicals, but I am a realist and sometimes if used properly I do think it is permissible. After spraying our clothes with Permethrin, we haven’t had any more issues with chiggers or ticks (ticks are another post in itself).