May 8, 2009

Treating Chigger Bites

Posted in Category : Common Ailments

Chigger bites can be most annoying and terribly itchy. You first see them as red bumps on your skin. Then the itching begins, and soon you can see more red welts. The soft folds of skin at the feet, ankles, groins, neck, elbows and armpits seem to be the targets. The itching lasts for a few days, or even a few weeks.


Chiggers are the young of a specific mite – the Trombiculidae. This mite is actually vegetarian, but in its larval stage, when it is known as chiggers, it sucks blood of warm-blooded animals. The chiggers are bright red in color and so tiny that a hundred can fit into an area of one square inch. After they are full of blood, they turn a yellow color.

The itching of a chigger bite is caused by its saliva, which it injects into the skin of its victim. This saliva has a digestive enzyme, which is powerful enough to dissolve the cells of the skin. A chigger takes hours to feed and is constantly injecting saliva while it is feeding. After some time, the skin reacts to this corrosive saliva by forming a hard tube-like structure, which is called stylostome. This appears as the itchy red welt, and it is not the body of the chigger as some people mistakenly believe.

Some people believe that applying nail polish on the bite will suffocate the chigger and kill it. Similarly they believe that bathing with alcohol, gasoline, turpentine, bleach or salt will kill the chigger under the skin, but it doesn’t really work that way.


As chigger bites will inevitably take at least 10-14 days to subside and will inflict intense itching, preventing the bites is a better idea.

  • Chiggers are generally known to inhabit woody, grassy areas. So, keeping your lawns, backyards and surroundings clean is the first step, especially if you are planning any backyard activity.
  • When going for a trek in the woods, wear suitable clothes so that chiggers cannot get to your skin. Wear full sleeved shirts with tight cuffs and long trousers with the ends tucked into your boots. After you get back home, change your clothes immediately and take a long soapy bath, scrubbing yourself properly to wash off any chiggers which might have clung on.
  • Applying mosquito repellant on the exposed skin near your throat, elbows, ankles and wrists may also prove helpful.
  • Chiggers cannot tolerate sulphur, so you can also dust some sulphur (or a mix of sulphur and talcum powder) on the exposed areas of skin. But first take care to test that you are not allergic to sulphur.


Do not try to remove the stylostome as it will dissolve in a fortnight’s time.

  • Scratching too deeply may cause secondary infection, which is far worse. So simply apply some antiseptic on the bites.
  • Applying a lotion or calamine will also prove soothing and subdue the terrible itch.
  • An ice pack also soothes the bite area.
  • The first step after a chigger bite should be to wash the area thoroughly with warm water and soap.
  • Baking soda has soothing properties. You can either mix it in your bath water or make a paste and apply it on the bite after your bath.
  • Moisten an aspirin tablet and rub the bite area with it. It will give relief from the itching and pain.