What are chiggers and what do they look like? The truth is, you might not see the chiggers — they measure just 1/150th of an inch, making them nearly invisible to the naked eye — but you’ll definitely see their itchy, skin-irritating results after you’ve spent some time outside.
What Is a Chigger?
Also known as harvest mites, berry bugs, red bugs and harvest lice, these tiny red bugs are mites (Trombiculidae). When people ask, “What are chiggers?,” they’re usually thinking of bugs when, in fact, these pests are related to spiders. (1) They can leave their mark on you after a stroll through the forest, a sunny game of golf or a playdate with your children in a park.
The good news is that you don’t have to suffer needlessly thanks to natural remedies that soothe chigger-related bites and keep the pesky bugs at bay.
What Are Chigger Bites?
When you get bitten by a chigger, it injects fluid into your skin. (2) This fluid they inject contains various enzymes that make the cells in your skin break and rupture. This helps the chiggers to essentially eat your skin cells, and it’s the resulting irritation from the digestive enzymes that lead to common chigger bite symptoms.
Signs & Symptoms
Identifying Chigger Bites:
When the chiggers bite you, you won’t feel it. These insects are so small that the bite itself is relatively painless. However, as the enzymes they inject into you begin to spread through your skin, you’ll start to see skin irritation and specific symptoms including: (3)
- Small red bumps that might look like pimples with a small white cap on the top of each bump
- Severe itching
The symptoms usually begin to appear within a few hours of being bitten. The rash usually appears on very specific areas of your body: Skin that’s exposed and open to the sunlight, and usually on your legs from where your shoes and socks are up to where your underwear touches your skin.
How long do chigger bites last?
Everybody responds differently to insect bites, but for most people, the rash begins to go away after two days.
What’s the difference between chigger bites vs. bed bug bites?
Chigger bites will disappear on their own as long as you limit or avoid the outdoors after your initial bites. In contrast, bed bugs continue to bite you daily and the rash doesn’t go away on its own. Additionally, while chiggers leave little red welts only on skin that was exposed outdoors, bed bugs create raised bumps in zig-zag patterns over your entire body.
Causes & Risk Factors
Your risks of experiencing a chigger-related skin rash and skin itching goes up depending on a combination of factors, such as timing and environment.
People stereotypically attribute chigger risks to the summer season, when in reality the pests are active from the spring season all the way through to the fall. (4)
And while any period of time spent outdoors can expose you to chiggers, these pests like to climb to the top of branches and long grass before dropping down onto an unsuspecting victim’s legs or feet.
Several specific areas of the landscape are especially prone to chigger infestations: (5)
- The edges of forests and woodlands
- Anywhere with tall patches of weeds or grass
- Patches of blackberries, raspberries and other berry plants (wild or cultivated)
Do chiggers spread on your body?
After dropping down from a branch of piece of grass, the chiggers will crawl across exposed skin looking for a good place to settle down, take a bite and begin to feed. Thus, while people often start to notice their rash on their ankles or lower legs, it can easily spread as the chiggers find new spots to bite.
How do you get rid of chigger bites?
Your doctor or health professional usually diagnoses a chigger rash simply by examining your skin, as the rash has a very simple, telltale appearance and is usually localized to specific areas of your body. During the examination, your doctor will likely ask you about recent outdoor activity, such as picnics, outdoor sports or hikes. This usually gives him or her all the information he needs to be confident that it’s a chigger-related rash.
How long does it take to get over chigger bites?
Conventional chigger bite treatment and chigger bugs treatment typically focuses on simply managing the itching, as the rash wears off on its own as the chiggers’ digestive enzymes cease to be active. (6) Over-the-counter medications are usually recommended, including antihistamines that help ease redness and itching.
How to Get Rid of Chiggers
What kills chiggers on the skin? Do chigger bites go away on their own?
When it comes to getting rid of chiggers on your body, it’s usually a non-issue.
It takes the pests approximately four days to eat if they’re undisturbed, but the unseen chiggers are usually brushed off your skin by your clothes, or removed by you unconsciously as you scratch at the bites, long before they’re finished eating. (7) Once they’re accidentally dislodged from your skin, the chiggers die almost immediately.
When it comes to chiggers in the landscape, getting rid of the pests involves new approaches to garden maintenance. Chiggers are attracted to specific types of plants and landscape styles, so it’s key to focus on those areas: (8)
- Cut back tall vegetation, as chiggers like to climb to the tallest points of plants.
- Clear away weeds.
- Keep your lawns trimmed short.
Doing this helps reduce humidity around the plants and also raises the soil temperature, helping to kill chiggers and chigger eggs.
5 Natural Home Remedies for Chigger Bites
While oral or topical medications are often recommended for chigger bites, several natural home remedies can quickly and effectively reduce the spread of the rash and keep skin discomfort at a minimum.
1. Take a Warm Shower
If you suspect you may have been exposed to chiggers, or you simply want to do daily prevention maintenance, take a warm shower immediately after potential exposure (i.e. walks in a park, hikes in the forest, gardening among tall grasses or shrubs, etc.).
This can quickly and effectively get rid of the unseen bugs, dramatically reduce the number of bites, prevent chigger bites spreading and is usually the first step for chigger treatment. (9) Use soap or shower gel and an exfoliator or cloth and scrub your entire body.
Because chiggers like to crawl, scrub everywhere and not just where you might see a few initial bites. (10) Pay special attention to your ankles and legs.
Once you’re done scrubbing, rinse off with very cold water, which can help soothe your skin and reduce itching.
2. Apply Calamine Lotion
Calamine lotion is a natural topical medication made from zinc. Historians have found evidence of its use for skin itching as far back as the Egyptian civilizations of 1500 B.C. (11)
It’s commonly used as an anti-itch treatment for chiggers as well as other forms of insect bites. (12) Apply little dabs of this pink liquid to affected skin areas once in the morning and again in the afternoon, or whenever itching returns.
3. Create a Baking Soda Compress
Baking soda has natural skin-soothing properties. To control chigger bite itch, as well as itching from all sorts of insect bites, mix equal parts of baking soda and water to create a thick paste. Spread it onto the chigger rash and let it sit for 20 minutes before rinsing and patting dry. (13)
4. Take a Natural Antihistamine
While your doctor may suggest commercial antihistamines, talk with him or her about the appropriateness of natural alternatives.
In a study published in the Alternative Medicine Review medical journal, study participants took 300 milligrams of stinging nettle a day. (14) Nearly 60 percent of the participants said the nettle worked effectively, and nearly 70 percent of them rated the stinging nettle as being more effective than the placebo.
Other natural enzymes and ingredients that may be just as effective as drug-based antihistamines include: (15)
- Vitamin C (2 grams of vitamin C per day)
- Bromelain, an enzyme in pineapples (500 mg taken three times a day)
- Quercetin, an antioxidant in onions (dosage varies based on the form of quercetin)
5. Cool Your Skin
Keeping your skin cool can help reduce skin irritation and itching, and also soothe away topical redness. Use a cold towel compress, or consider soaking green tea or black tea bags, placing them in your fridge for a few hours, and then applying them to your skin rash (the antioxidants in the tea can help nourish and heal your skin).
Tips to Help Prevent Chigger Bites
The next time you’re heading out for a picnic or getting down to play a yard game, check for chiggers so you can avoid that specific area of grass or park: (16) Lay a piece of dark cardboard on the ground. Within a few minutes, pink or yellow or little red bugs will show up on the cardboard if chiggers are present.
If you’re unsure if chiggers are present, or simply determined to enjoy the outdoors during warm weather regardless of chiggers, you can take simple steps to reduce your risks of getting bitten: (17)
- Avoid overgrown areas or tall grass, and stick to clear trails or paths when walking or hiking in the woods.
- Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible, including pants and long-sleeved shirts.
- Take a shower immediately after finishing outdoor recreation.
- Wash your clothes before wearing them again.
Applying insect repellent to your clothes, including your shoes, can also be effective. While there are many insecticide-based options on the market, when it comes to home remedies for chigger bites, you can also make your own repellent using natural ingredients. (18)
In a clean spray bottle, combine 25 drops of sassafras essential oil (or clove oil as an alternative) with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of aloe vera gel. Shake to combine thoroughly then spritz on yourself before heading outdoors.
The chigger bites themselves are relatively harmless, besides being extremely itching. Try to avoid scratching the rash, as this breaks your skin and can increase your risks of infection.
If your chigger rash becomes infected, your doctor may be required to put you on a course of antibiotics as a form of chigger bites treatment to keep the infections and fevers from becoming more serious.
Key Points about Chigger Bites
Chiggers are almost invisible to the naked eye, but their irritating bites can appear after you’ve spent a day outdoors:
- Chiggers are commonly thought to be a summer problem, but they’re present from the spring through the fall.
- Chigger symptoms appear within a few hours of being bitten and include hives, itching and small pimple-like bumps.
- Chigger bites a typically restricted to bare skin exposed to sunlight.
- Risks of chigger bites go up if you spend time in and around tall grasses, bushes and the edges of woodlands.
- Chigger symptoms typically go away after a few days, but those few days can include intense itching and skin rashes.
5 Natural Alternatives to Help Treat and Reduce Chigger Symptoms
- Taking a warm shower and scrubbing all areas of your body.
- Applying a soothing calamine lotion.
- Creating a paste of baking soda and letting it soak on your rash for 20 minutes.
- Taking a natural antihistamine, such as stinging nettle.
- Keeping your skin cool and calm with cold compresses (e.g. chilled tea bags).