Chiggers are parasites that bite your skin in clusters, often for hours or days if you do not wash them off your skin. They’re prevalent in the southeastern United States.
It’s hard to spot chiggers because they are microscopic, and you may never see them on your skin. The first sign you have chigger bites could be the physical evidence of their bites, and symptoms appear a day or so after they bite you.
There are many ways to treat these bites at home to soothe symptoms and prevent infection. In general, chigger bites are more uncomfortable than harmful to your health.
There are many ways to treat chigger bites at home. You want to focus on getting the chiggers off your skin, soothing the skin from itching and pain, and avoiding infection. Always follow the directions of products you use to treat chigger bites.
There is no need to “suffocate” the chiggers with products like nail polish or petroleum jelly, as you might with fleas.
Bath or shower
Bathing or showering with hot water following exposure to chiggers may help remove any remaining bugs from your skin and soothe it. Make sure to apply soap during your bath or shower, and use a washcloth for friction against the skin to ensure they come off.
It’s likely that chiggers no longer remain on your skin if the area itches. If the chigger bites itch, taking a cool shower or bath may soothe your symptoms.
It may be helpful when treating chigger bites, particularly with bath products or moisturizers after bathing or showering. You may find products containing colloidal oatmeal at your local pharmacy or grocery store. Follow the directions of the product packaging.
Calamine lotion is an over-the-counter product that can soothe your skin by relieving itching. It can also dry out bug bites that start to secrete ooze. You can apply it a few times a day.
There are several over-the-counter medications you can use to treat chigger bites:
- Oral antihistamines reduce itching and inflammation. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is one type of oral antihistamine.
- Oral medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can relieve pain and discomfort. Ibuprofen can also reduce inflammation.
- Topical creams containing ingredients that reduce itching, inflammation, and irritation can also be effective. Look for products that include camphor, menthol, or pramoxine. Hydrocortisone is a product that contains topical steroids that may relieve symptoms.
- Topical antiseptics clean the bite area and reduce the likelihood of infection.
Essential oils are a complementary or alternative therapy and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. You should use essential oils with caution. Some essential oils for bug bites that may soothe inflammation or itching include:
- tea tree
Make sure to dilute essential oils with a carrier oil or moisturizer before using them on your skin. Don’t use them orally or put them near your eyes.
Essential oils may also help ward off chigger bites. One study focused on a type of chigger native to Asia found that clove, tea tree, cassumunar ginger, and eucalyptus globulus repelled 100 percent of chiggers.
Ice pack or cold compress
Apply an ice pack or cold compress to chigger bites that itch. Use a towel or a light cloth between an ice pack and your skin to avoid very cold temperatures touching your skin directly.
Keep your fingernails short so you don’t open up the affected skin if you scratch it. Scratching chigger bites with sharp or long nails could lead to infections.
You may need to deal with chigger bites with a stronger treatment. A doctor may prescribe:
- topical steroid ointment or cream if you have more severe symptoms
- antibiotic (if the bites become infected)
There are several reasons you may want to call a doctor about chigger bites:
- Your bites become more irritated, ooze, or do not heal, which are signs of infection.
- You feel ill and have a fever, which could be a sign of an infection.
- You have a severe allergic reaction.
If you have the following symptom of a severe allergic reaction to the chigger bites, called anaphylactic shock, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room:
- severe swelling
- hives or a rash
- throat swelling
Chiggers often bite in areas where your skin folds, such as the backs of your knees or armpits, or near restrictive bands of clothing like around the holes of your underwear, the waist of your pants, or the elastic of your socks.
Physical evidence of chigger bites include:
- reddish, raised pimples that appear in clumps
- red dot at the center of the bite
- itchy skin near the bites
- pain near the bites
Chigger bite symptoms can range in severity depending on your skin’s sensitivity to the bites and how long the parasites remained on your skin.
There are several ways to soothe chigger bite symptoms at home. Make sure to remove the bugs from your skin before you start treating the irritation, itching, and swelling.
You can try to soothe symptoms with over-the-counter medications, by bathing, and possibly even with essential oils. Call your doctor if symptoms linger or get worse.