Chigger Bite

Chiggers are tiny mites that attach themselves to the skin to feed on skin cells. It's only the larvae (babies) of the chigger that bite people. When a chigger bites you, it attaches tiny mouth parts to the skin, usually near a skin pore or hair follicle. The bite is painless. They don't burrow under your skin or suck your blood.

After biting, they inject saliva (spit) into the skin. The saliva has an enzyme that breaks down skin cells into a liquid. This is what they eat. To prevent the saliva from spreading, the skin cells around the saliva harden. This causes the redness, swelling, and severe itching. In North America, chigger bites don't transmit disease. But they do cause significant itching as the bite heals. This may take a week or longer. Chigger bites are most common in the summer and the fall in the U.S.

Boys can sometimes get penile swelling, itching, and painful urination from a hypersensitivity reaction to chigger bites. This is called "summer penile syndrome" and can sometimes last up to a few weeks.

Home care

The healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medicines containing antihistamines to help relieve itching and swelling. Use each medicine according to the directions on the package. If the bite becomes infected, an antibiotic will be prescribed. This may be in pill form taken by mouth or as an ointment or cream put directly on the skin. Be sure to use this medicine exactly as prescribed. You should continue using your antibiotic until you are told you can stop, even if you’re feeling better.

The following are general care guidelines:  

  • Symptoms usually go away on their own within 1 to 2 weeks.

  • Wash all the clothing you were using when you were bitten, since there may still be mites in them. The same goes for blankets or sleeping bags. Use hot water.

  • To help prevent infection, avoid scratching and picking as much as possible.

  • To help relieve itching and swelling, apply ice wrapped in a thin towel to the bites. Do this for up to 10 minutes at a time. Be careful not to freeze your skin, as this will damage it.

  • An OTC anti-itch cream like calamine, diphenhydramine, or hydrocortisone may be helpful.

  • Avoid hot baths or showers. This can make itching worse.

  • Contrary to popular belief, chiggers don't burrow in the skin. Don't apply alcohol, heat, or other home remedies to the skin in an attempt to remove chiggers.

Avoiding chigger bites

These are things you can do to prevent chigger bites:

  • Wear socks, long sleeves and long pants when you are outdoors where chiggers have likely gathered, such as in tall grass. Also use insect repellent. The most effective repellents contain DEET (10% to 30%). Children should not use more than 10% strength of DEET. Infants and pregnant women in the first trimester should not use DEET.

  • You can spray your clothing with a repellent containing DEET or permethrin. If you do this, you don't need to put repellent on the skin under clothing that has been sprayed. Spray it around the openings of your clothes. This includes the cuffs, waistband, shirt neck, and tops of boots.

  • Sulfur powder can also be applied to clothing. But sulfur can have a strong odor, especially when mixed with sweat. It can also irritate sensitive skin.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of the following occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised by your provider

  • Headache, fever, chills, muscle or joint aching, or vomiting

  • New rash

  • Signs of infection, such as increased swelling and pain, warmth, red streaks, or drainage

  • Drainage from the bite area

Call 911

Call 911or get immediate medical care if any of the following occur:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing

  • Dizziness

  • Weakness

  • Fainting

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