How to Treat and Prevent Chigger Bites

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
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Chigger bites occur when the small larvae of certain mites attach to the skin. The reaction is usually mild, with pain and itchiness lasting around 2–3 days. A chigger will typically attach to exposed areas of skin, particularly around areas of tight clothing such as a waistline. The mite larvae then inject saliva, which results in the breakdown of your skin cells.

Clusters of itchy bumps indicate that your body is reacting to the bite. A chigger bite rash, also known as trombiculiasis, is not usually a cause for concern. However, in places near Australia and Southeast Asia, chiggers can carry the bacteria that causes scrub typhus.

Read on to learn more about chigger bites, including how to treat them and when to contact a doctor.

What is a chigger?

A child is playing in the grass.
Julia Forsman/Stocksy United

Chiggers are a species of the Trombiculid mite family. Other names for chiggers include:

  • berry bugs
  • red bugs
  • harvest mites

There are 4 stages to a chigger’s life cycle:

  • egg
  • larvae
  • nymph
  • adult

The tiny larvae of these mites attach to your skin. If you do not brush them away, they will bite the skin and inject enzymes that destroy the tissue.

Chiggers measure around 0.15–0.3mm in diameter. Their size means they are too small to properly see with the eye.

Where are chiggers found?

Chiggers most commonly exist in the following types of places:

  • wooded areas
  • overgrown fields
  • moist soil near bodies of water

Chigger bites typically occur between summer and fall in the Northern hemisphere. Chigger species around the world include:

  • Eutrombicula alfreddugesi in the south of the United States
  • Trombicula autumnalis in Europe
  • Leptotrombidium genus in Asia and Oceania

What do chigger bites look like?

View the slideshow below for pictures of chigger bites.

Chigger bites

chiggers-body4.jpg

Chiggers typically attach to the skin in areas that are thin, tender, or wrinkled, and once they bite, reddish, itchy welts appear within 24 hours

TimVickers, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

chiggers-body3.jpg

Chigger bites on the top of the feet

W-W/Shutterstock

chiggers-body2.jpg

Chigger bites on the ankle and Achilles tendon

Kambrose123, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

insect-bites-on-boys-neck-body1.jpg

Insect bites on boy’s neck

Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

How do I treat chigger bites?

If a chigger has bitten you, wash the area with soap and water. Take a bath or shower as soon as possible to remove any other chiggers from your skin. Washing your clothes straight away will also help reduce the risk of further chigger bites if you have been in an area infested with chigger mites.

Your doctor may prescribe medication to treat symptoms of chigger bites. These medications can include oral antihistamines and topical corticosteroid cream to alleviate pain and soothe itchiness.

Applying a cold compress to the bite can also help reduce any swelling and discomfort.

Discover more ways to relieve itchy skin.

What are the symptoms of chigger bites?

The main symptoms of chigger bites are itchiness and small red bumps that can appear in clusters.

Common symptoms of chigger bites typically last around 2–3 days, but they may persist for a few weeks.

If a chigger bites the penis, this can result in summer penile syndrome. Symptoms include itching, swelling, and pain when urinating.

Learn more about recognizing common insect bites.

Are chigger bites infectious?

Chigger bites are not infectious and cannot spread from one person to another. Similarly, a chigger cannot live for more than a few days on the human body.

You can only get a chigger bite if you encounter their natural habitats, such as a wooded area or a tall field.

When should I contact a doctor for chigger bites?

Contact your doctor if you have a chigger bite and are experiencing any swelling or pain. They will be able to recommend the best course of treatment for you. Recommendations can include antihistamines and topical corticosteroid cream.

You can also contact your pharmacist for advice about over-the-counter medications.

How is a chigger bite diagnosed?

Your doctor will carry out a physical examination of the infected area to assess whether or not you have experienced a chigger bite.

They will also want to know if you have been in areas where chiggers are common. Ensure your doctor knows if you have spent time outdoors, particularly in wooded areas or overgrown fields.

A chigger bite diagnosis is more likely to occur in summer and early fall. During this time, chigger bites are more common.

How long do chigger bites last?

Chigger bite symptoms typically last around 2–3 days. However, in some cases, they may last several weeks.

Contact your doctor or pharmacist as soon as you notice symptoms of chigger bites.

Are there any complications of chigger bites?

Most chigger bites are not a cause for concern. However, in some cases, complications can occur.

Possible complications of chigger bites include:

  • cellulitis from picking at the infected area
  • summer penile syndrome if the chigger bites the penis
  • scrub typhus, a type of rickettsial disease that chiggers in parts of Asia and Oceania can transmit

Contact your doctor for treatment advice if you travel to Asia or Oceania and receive a chigger bite. If you develop but do not treat scrub typhus, it can lead to multi-organ failure or death.

Can I prevent chigger bites?

The following steps can help you to prevent chigger bites:

  • Where possible, avoid areas with potential chigger infestations, such as woods or fields.
  • Minimize exposed skin by securing the ends of clothes, such as trouser legs or shirt sleeves, with elastic bands.
  • Tuck the bottoms of trousers into your socks or boots to further reduce the risk of skin exposure.
  • Use an insect repellent that contains DEET.
  • Apply permethrin to the skin to ward off insects.

If a chigger does bite you, taking a bath or shower and washing your clothes straight away can help prevent further chigger bites.

Summary

Chiggers are small larvae of mites that can bite you and cause an itchy rash-like patch of raised bumps. These symptoms typically last from around 2–3 days to a few weeks.

Avoiding wooded areas and fields, particularly in summer and fall, can reduce your risk of chigger bites. If you have a chigger bite, treatment options include antihistamines and topical corticosteroid cream. Applying a cold compress can also help reduce swelling.

Contact your doctor if you suspect you have a chigger bite. They will perform a physical examination and recommend the best course of treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2022 May 24
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.