Chiggers are actually a type of mite and are related to spiders and ticks. They need a high level of humidity to live and are found in moist areas as a result. Forests, grassy areas, parks and gardens around the world can serve as homes to these arachnids. Unless they are grouped together, you probably won’t be able to see these tiny red bugs. Chiggers measure less than 1/150th of an inch.
Where do they bite?
A chigger’s feeding structure is actually rather delicate. For that reason, they prefer areas on the body where the skin is fairly thin, such as the ankles, the crotch and groin areas, behind the knees and in the armpits. Typically the chiggers first come in contact with humans at spots where people may touch plant life, for instance pants cuffs or shirt sleeves. The insects then will move around until they find a spot where it is easy for them to penetrate the skin.
Myths about chiggers
One of the more disturbing things most people think they know about chiggers is not actually true — they do not burrow under the skin and remain there. In fact, what these mites do is inject enzymes into the skin through the insertion of their feeding structures. The enzymes cause the surrounding tissue to harden, causing the creation of a feeding tube, which they can feed on for several days if left undisturbed. The good news is that because chigger bites cause a great deal of itching, their feeding structures rarely remain undisturbed for that long of a period.
Symptoms and solutions
You won’t know immediately that you have been bitten by chiggers. It typically takes several hours for the signs to appear. Not only will the spot be itchy, but also you may find raised red bumps at the bite location, which can sometimes resemble a blister. The itching should only last a few days, but the red spots can linger for a week or more. Since chiggers do not burrow under the skin, home remedies such as nail polish or alcohol applied to the bite locations are not effective. Treatments that can help with symptoms include a cool shower or bath, bath products that contain colloidal oatmeal or over-the-counter medications to control itching such as calamine lotion and oral antihistamines.
Applying bug spray before going outside can prevent chiggers to start with, as can washing with warm water and soap after outdoor activity. Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and tucking pants into socks, can also help. If you suspect you have encountered chiggers, clothing should be washed in hot water to kill any remaining bugs.