Chiggers are close relatives of arachnids which include ticks and spiders. The chigger mites are found worldwide and only 2 species are bothersome to humans. The larval form of chiggers is orange, yellow or light red in color with six legs and known to cause most of the bites while the adult form is not parasitic. Just like with tick and spider bites, proper care must be taken if an individual sustained chigger bites after spending some time outdoors.
Chiggers are usually found in the outdoors on lowland plants close to tall grassy woody areas or areas surrounded by water. They fasten to clothing and travel on the skin in search for the ideal feeding site. Take note that chiggers do not burrow into the skin as what most believe.
Chiggers typically feed on sites on the body where clothing is tight or in areas of skin folds. The common sites include the lower legs, behind the knees, ankles, groin, waistline and axilla. The chigger bites will go unnoticed until 1-3 hours later after the mite secretes a digestive enzyme into the skin which kills the skin cells. The dead skin cells form a tube known as stylostome in which the larva utilizes to withdraw digested tissue. It is the enzyme responsible for the intense itchiness that can be extreme in the first 24-48 hours then gradually subsides. Take note that chigger dermatitis is described as a red-colored flat or elevated lesion. A pustule or vesicle might be present. The resolution of chigger dermatitis can take up to 2 weeks to fully resolve.
The prevention of chigger dermatitis usually starts by wearing protective clothing. It is also recommended to wear long-sleeve shirts, thick socks, pants, boots or high ankle shoes when spending time outdoors. When wearing pants, it must be inserted into the boots if possible.
Mosquito repellants such as those that contain DEET should be sprayed onto the exposed skin and clothing in order to prevent infestation. It is important to note that chigger mites are sensitive to temperature and do not bite in extreme temperatures. Chiggers do not bite if it is colder than 60 degrees F or hotter than 99 degrees F.
Treatment of chigger bites
The treatment of chigger bites are focused on controlling the severe itchiness linked with the bites. Topical creams or lotions are applied to the affected areas such as corticosteroid creams or calamine lotion which provide symptomatic relief. Oral antihistamines can also provide some benefit.
Home remedies that suffocate the chigger mites such as rubbing alcohol, clear nail polish or bleach could not help since the mites do not burrow into the skin.
When spending time outdoors, it is highly recommended to wear appropriate clothing in order to prevent the chigger mites from crawling into the skin.