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Chigger Bite

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What do I need to know about a chigger bite?

A chigger is a tiny mite (similar to a spider or tick). It may also be called a red bug or harvest bug. A chigger is too small to be seen without a magnifying glass. Chiggers are usually found in grassy areas, often near forests, lakes, and rivers. Only baby chiggers bite. They use their claws to attach onto your skin when you brush up against grass or a bush that contains chiggers. Then they pierce the skin and inject saliva. The saliva breaks the skin down so they can feed on it. A chigger will feed for a few days and then fall off.

What are the signs and symptoms of a chigger bite?

Chigger bites usually occur where clothing is tight. Examples include where a belt presses against your waist or where your socks cling to your legs. Chiggers also commonly bite near folds of skin such as the armpit or behind the knee. Any of the following may develop soon after the bite and last up to a few weeks:

  • Itching skin in the bite area is the most common symptom and can last for days
  • Large red sores that are grouped in one body area, sometimes referred to as chiggers
  • Sores that look like blisters or red, flat areas that develop in about 3 to 6 hours
  • A very itchy round growth or collection of pus that develops in about 10 to 16 hours

How is a chigger bite diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider may know you have a chigger bite by the way the sores look. The following can help treat signs and symptoms:

  • Medicines may be given as a pill or lotion to reduce swelling or itching. You may also need medicine to treat a bacterial infection if the bite becomes infected from scratching.
  • Calamine lotion or cortisone cream may help reduce itching. This lotion and cream are available without a doctor's order.
  • A cool bath, compress, or oatmeal bath may help reduce swelling and itching. Keep the water lukewarm or cool. Hot water may make itching and redness worse. Pat the area gently to dry your skin. To prevent irritation and infection, do not rub the sores.

How can I prevent a chigger bite?

  • Protect yourself when you go to places where chiggers are found. Check the weather before you go to the area. Chiggers only bite when the temperature is between 60˚F (15.5˚C) and 99˚F (37.2˚C). Cover your skin. Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts. Wear thick socks and high boots that cover your ankles. Tuck your socks into your pants legs to prevent chiggers from attaching to your legs.
  • Apply bug repellant. Only spray the repellant in an open area so you do not breathe it in. Follow the directions that come with the repellant. Wash the repellant off as soon as you come inside. Wash all sprayed clothing before you wear it again. Repellant may contain DEET or permethrin:
    • Spray DEET on your clothing and bare skin. Do not spray your face directly. Put a small amount on your hands and apply to your face. Avoid the eye and lip areas. Do not apply DEET to a child who is younger than 2 months.
    • Spray permethrin only on your clothing. Do not spray your skin.
  • Wash with soap and water. As soon as you come inside, wash all areas of your skin that were exposed to chiggers. This will help remove the chiggers. Gently rub your skin as you wash so you do not detach the chigger's head from its body. The head can continue to irritate your skin.
  • Wash clothing in hot water. The hot water will kill any chiggers left in your clothing.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your skin has signs of infection, such as pus or swelling.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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