How to Treat Chigger Bites

Chiggers are tiny biting pests that feed on your skin and leave behind itchy, reddish bumps. They're active during warm weather and typically latch onto you when you move through their habitat, which is often in tall grass, weeds, and wooded areas, especially near water. While annoying, chigger bites are fairly easy to treat, and you can also take steps to prevent them.

Prevent and Treat Chigger Bites
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

What Are Chiggers?

Chiggers are the larvae (babies) of harvest mites or Trombiculidae. Closely related to ticks, these mites are arachnids, part of the same family that includes spiders and scorpions.

Chiggers are so minute that you're unlikely to ever see them and probably won't be aware of them until you feel their bites. They usually grab onto your clothing and then crawl around until they find the right kind of skin to feed on.

These bugs don't actually prefer humans, who can easily brush or wash them off. Their preferred prey is birds and reptiles, who are less able to get rid of them, but they'll grab onto any kind of animal they can when looking to feed.

Several adult harvest mites can fit on the head of a pin, and the larvae are even tinier. Adults don't bite—only the larvae do. The mites lay eggs in from spring until fall, so that's when you're likely to be bitten.

Chiggers only bite when the temperature is between 60 degrees and 99 degrees Fahrenheit. (That about 15.5 to 37.2 degrees Celcius.)

Do They Burrow into Your Skin?

Contrary to the popular myth, chiggers do not burrow into your skin, so there's no need to attempt getting them out or killing them with rubbing alcohol or fingernail polish. Chiggers latch onto the surface of your skin and stay there for as long as they can hang on.

How Do They Bite?

Chiggers' mouths are similar to those of ticks but smaller—so small, in fact, that they can't hold on very tight, which means they usually go for thinner skin, like where it folds and around the base of hair follicles. Armpits and groins meet both of those requirements.

When chiggers bite, they inject saliva into your skin. The saliva contains enzymes that liquefy your skin cells, and the chiggers suck out the liquid. Your body reacts to the bite by hardening the cells up against the damaged area, which creates a tube.

The tube acts as a perfect straw to help the chigger as it continues to suck out your liquified skin. It may sound gross, but other than irritating your skin and making you itch, the bite won't harm you.

Are Chiggers Dangerous?

In North America, chiggers are harmless other than the itching. In Asia, on the other hand, chiggers can spread scrub typhus.

Signs and Symptoms

The irritation that triggers the body to fight back and harden the area is what leads to itching. Chigger bites are well known for causing symptoms such as:

  • Severe itching that is most intense in the first two days after the bite and then tapers off over a few more days
  • Red spots that may be raised or flat; they may sometimes look like blisters or pustules and can last for up to two weeks
  • Bites primarily on the ankles, groin, behind the knees, armpits, and around the waist near the beltline

The bump left by a bite may have a bright red center dot, which is the straw-like structure. Because multiple chiggers often attach to people passing through, you may have small clusters of bumps that increase in size and number for several days.

Signs of Infection

As with all bug bites, chigger bites can become infected, and scratching increases the risk of infection. It's important to keep an eye on any bite that blisters, no matter how small.

The bacterial infection impetigo can develop, with signs of pus and crusts around the bites after 24 hours. If you see a spreading area of redness, pain, swelling, and warmth, it is a sign of cellulitis. Get medical attention right away if you have these symptoms.

Treatment

Chigger bites can become scaly and may continue to itch for several days after the bites first appear. To keep more bites from occurring, you need to get rid of the chiggers. Then you can focus on alleviating the itchiness from the bites.

Wash Them off

When you first notice the bites, chances are the chiggers are still on your skin, feasting away. You can get rid of them by simply washing them off—lather up the area with soap and warm water, rinse it off, then lather up at least one more time to make sure you get them all.

If you don't have access to warm, soapy water, rub down the area with a clean cloth or towel. It doesn't take much to knock off feeding chiggers.

Treating the Bites

Over-the-counter lotions like calamine with or without Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can be used to ease the itch of chigger bites. Some chigger-specific products are on the market, as well. You might also find that taking allergy pills or putting an ice pack on the bites helps you feel less itchy.

Mostly, though, you'll just have to wait it out. It may take between 10 and 14 days for the itching to go away.

To help prevent infection, it may help to dab antibiotic ointment on the bites.

When to See a Doctor

If you see signs of infection or your bites and the associated symptoms don't seem to be getting better, call your doctor. For a serious infection or signs of an allergic reaction (difficulty breathing, spreading rash), get emergency medical attention.

Prevention

It's not difficult to prevent chigger bites. Bug spray containing DEET are an effective deterrent and should keep them from latching onto you. Even if you wear socks and hiking boots, use bug spray with DEET on any exposed skin.

Bigger threats like ticks and snakes often live in the same type of environment as chiggers, so it's a good idea to combine sturdy footwear, socks, and spray when you're enjoying the outdoors.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do chiggers live?

As six-legged larvae, chiggers live for one or two weeks. After that, they molt into their eight-legged nymph form, and after another few weeks, they become adult harvest mites. An adult female can live for up to a year. However, chiggers only bite when they're in larval form.

Chiggers typically don't live on your skin for more than three days.

A Word From Verywell

Chiggers and their bites are definitely annoying, but if you recognize the symptoms of chigger bites and take action to get rid of the pests right away, you can help prevent even more bites. And if you can take steps to prevent them with protective clothing and a DEET-containing bug spray, you may not have to worry about chiggers at all.

If you have any concerns about chigger bites, and especially infection, talk to a doctor.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jang MS, Kim CM, Kim DM, et al. Comparison of preferred bite sites between mites and ticks on humans in KoreaAm J Trop Med Hyg. 2016;95(5):1021–1025. doi:10.4269/ajtmh.16-0186

  2. Juckett G. Arthropod bites. Am Fam Physician. 2013;88(12):841-7.

Additional Reading
  • American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Chiggers.

  • University of Missouri Extension. Chiggers.