The tiny biting mites called chiggers are the larval form of an (eventually) eight-legged arachnid. In their larval form, they appear to have just six legs. Vanishingly small (just 1/60th of an inch in length), and bright reddish-orange in color, these tiny parasites emerge in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and begin feeding as soon as temperatures regularly exceed 60 degrees F. They perch on grasses and other vegetation, waiting to latch onto the skin of unsuspecting animals or humans that happen to pass by.
What Are Chigger Bites & What Do They Look Like?
Chigger larvae do not technically bite humans. Rather, they pierce the skin and inject skin-dissolving enzymes, forming a sort of tube that extends down into the skin. Unlike their relative, the tick, they do not suck blood. They feed upon liquefied skin cells. Only after the tiny mites drop off do red, pimple-like, itchy bumps form at the site of their feeding.
Once attached to a host (you, the victim), they may remain for three to five days before dropping off. Contrary to folk lore, they do not burrow into the skin, nor do they lay eggs in your skin. Unfortunately, the itchy red welts that signify their presence typically appear only after these pests have dropped off.
Chiggers tend to seek out protective folds of clothing or skin, such as waistbands or behind the knees, before beginning to feed. Sitting or lying on grass is an invitation to these hungry mites to attack. They are somewhat sensitive to moisture. In spring when grasses tend to be wet, they may perch at the top of tall grass. Later, when conditions become hotter and drier, they may retreat to moist leaf mounds, brush, or shaded areas.
If you have spent time outdoors, especially in tall grass, in spring or summer, you should consider removing all clothing, laundering it in hot water, and taking a hot shower immediately upon your return.
Avoid These Folk Remedies
Treating chigger bites can be somewhat complicated by the fact that the mites’ activity will have damaged the skin, partially dissolving the local skin. Unfortunately, the digestive enzymes injected by the mites tend to cause notable itchiness. This itchiness may be exacerbated by a patient’s individual immune or allergic response.
Folk remedies for chigger bites often involved “suffocating” the mites by applying petroleum jelly or even nail polish to the wound. This is pointless, as the arachnids will have been removed already, either by showering or by dropping off willingly.
How Long Does it Take to Get Over Chigger Bites?
While the wounds are unsightly, and may be devilishly itchy, the larger challenge is to avoid causing secondary infections at the site(s) by scratching and inadvertently infecting the wound with bacteria from the fingernails.
The typical approach, then, is to apply a topical ointment that can temporarily reduce inflammation and itchiness. Examples include over-the-counter corticosteroid creams, calamine lotion, or antihistamine cream. After one to two weeks, these skin lesions will heal on their own, assuming they have not become infected.
How Do You Get Rid of Chigger Bites?
If you have suffered numerous bites, or individual lesions have become infected, as indicated by heat, swelling, or pus coming from the site, it may be prudent to seek medical attention. At PhysicianOne Urgent Care, our healthcare providers can recommend appropriate treatments ranging from topical hydrocortisone creams, to antibiotic ointments, to antihistamine preparations, as indicated.
Visit Your Local PhysicianOne Urgent Care
If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of possible bug bites, it is important to have the bite area assessed by the professionals at PhysicianOne Urgent Care. We are open 7 days/week with extended hours to help. Most bug bites are a temporary annoyance, but there’s no need to take unnecessary chances if you’re uncertain. If you have concerns, our experienced team will assess the symptoms and recommend the best treatment options. Contact us at 1.855.349.2828, or stop in today for a convenient, walk-in visit. If you’re looking to save time, find a location near you and check in online today!