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Chigger Bite

You have been bitten by a chigger. Chiggers are tiny mites that attach themselves to the skin to feed on skin cells. It is 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. Then it injects some saliva (spit) into the skin. The saliva has an enzyme that breaks down skin cells into a liquid. To prevent the saliva from spreading, the skin cells around the saliva harden. This creates a tube called a stylostome. The young chigger sucks in the liquid through the stylostome. It is the stylostome that causes the redness, swelling, and severe itching. In North America, chigger bites do not transmit disease. But they do cause significant itching as the bite heals. This may take a week or longer.

Home Care

Medications: The doctor may prescribe over-the-counter (OTC) medications to help relieve itching and swelling. Use each medication 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 them exactly as prescribed. You should continue using your antibiotic until you are told you can stop, even if you’re feeling better.

General Care:  

  • Symptoms usually go away on their own within a week or two.

  • 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.

  • An OTC anti-itch cream, such as calamine or hydrocortisone, may be helpful.

  • Avoid hot baths or showers, as this tends to make itching worse.

  • Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not burrow in the skin. Do not 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:

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

  • You can spray your clothing with a repellent containing DEET or permethrin. If you do this, you do not 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

with your doctor or as advised by our staff.

Get Prompt Medical Attention

if any of the following occur:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Dizziness, weakness or fainting

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

  • New rash

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

  • Drainage from the bite area


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