What are chigger bites?
Many people experience red bumps, blisters, or rashes with severe itching. These symptoms are often caused by chigger bites. Chiggers are small insects that are found in the grass and leaves. The chigger takes bites out of your skin, feeding on it sometimes for several days. While this experience is uncomfortable, chigger bites are usually harmless and can be treated at home.
Chigger bites are red bumps, blisters, or rashes with severe itching. These symptoms develop on the skin, most commonly on the legs and hips.
Chigger bites are caused by small insect larvae known as chiggers. Chiggers live in grassy fields, near water, in forests, or in your lawn. When you walk through these areas, sometimes a chigger will latch onto the skin with its claws and feed on your skin cells.
When chiggers feed, they insert saliva under your skin causing skin irritation and severe itching. This often appears as itchy red bumps that look like pimples or hives. Chigger bites often appear in groups and get bigger and itchier over time.
Most of the time, chigger bites will go away on their own. Like mosquito bites, chigger bites are uncomfortable, but not dangerous.
Diagnosis for chigger bites
A licensed health care professional can help diagnose chigger bites. A doctor may start by giving you a physical exam and asking about your symptoms and health history. The doctor will evaluate the skin for circular red bumps and signs of irritation or rash. However, it is not always easy to identify chigger bites from other insect bites or rashes.
Treatments for chigger bites
Health care providers usually treat chigger bites with a combination of medication and skin cleaning.
Doctors will usually start by washing the skin with soap and water. They can prescribe medication to help treat chigger bites.
If you have chigger bites, your doctor might prescribe a medication that also treats skin irritation. Usually, the first choice is an antihistamine. Antihistamines are allergy medicines used to treat itching. It can be taken by mouth or applied on the skin as a cream.
Chigger bites can be treated at home. Treatment begins by washing the affected area with soap and water. Calamine lotion and anti-itch creams can help reduce itching. Holding a cold ice pack or cold washcloth over the skin can also help you find relief from chigger bites.
If you have concerns about your chigger bites, call your doctor if:
- Over the counter lotions or anti-itch cream aren’t working
- One of your chigger bites is infected (redness, warmth, tenderness, puss)
- You have a fever
- You experience nausea or vomiting
To help protect yourself from chigger bites, there are a few easy things you can do. When you go outside, it’s recommended to wear 10–30% DEET (insect repellent). It also helps to wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants tucked into shoes. When you get home, take a shower and wash your clothes in hot water.
Possible complications and side effects
Most of the time chigger bites will go away on their own, but in some cases your doctor might prescribe antihistamine medicine. Antihistamines help reduce itching and pain related to chigger bites.
To determine which type of antihistamine to take, talk with your doctor. Different people respond differently to this type of medication. If you have an allergy or body sensitivity to antihistamines, you may experience side effects, such as:
- Reduced coordination
- Delayed reaction time
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Urinary retention
- Nausea and vomiting
Other medications may have different side effects. Consult your health care provider about possible complications of any medications you might take for treating chigger bites.
Skin Problems and Treatments Resources
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Cedars-Sinai: “Flea, Mite, or Chigger Bites in Children.”
Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital: “Chiggers.”
National Health Service: “Antihistamines.”