How to Treat Chigger Bites

A chigger sees a human dress like this and thinks, 'Mm. Lunch.'. Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

Have you ever had a chigger bite? They're absolutely maddening! The bites are like getting a dozen mosquito bites in one spot, except instead of lasting for an hour or two, the itch goes on for days. Not fun.

Chiggers are microscopic mites that are found outdoors in grassy fields, along lakes and rivers, and in forests. Chiggers mostly feed on small animals, but sometimes find their way to other warm-blooded animals — meaning people! They use their tiny claws to attach, and then pierce the skin to inject their saliva. Their saliva contains digestive juices that dissolve skin cells, which the chigger then eats. After a couple of days, the chigger falls off and leaves a tiny red bump in its wake. Over the course of a few days, the bumps get larger and itchier and often form in groups. Since the bites don't start itching right away, it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint exactly when you've been bitten.

An old remedy involves putting nail polish on the bites to "suffocate" the chiggers. Though this seems logical, it simply won't work. That's because chiggers don't burrow into your skin, so it is impossible to suffocate them. In fact, it's easy to remove a chigger since it usually sits right on top of the skin while holding onto something as flimsy as a hair follicle. If you suspect that you've ventured into chigger territory, it's a good idea to take a nice, long soapy shower, which will wash the chiggers off before they have a chance to feed off your skin. Once the bite starts itching, it's too late, unfortunately. The chiggers are long gone, and the hive-like bumps are the body's own immune response to the chigger's saliva.

So what to do once the chigger bites makes themselves known? They will eventually stop itching and subside on their own, but while they're itching like crazy, there are a few things you can do to help treat them.

1. Wash the bites. Since chiggers do not carry any harmful bacteria or cause any diseases, the most important thing is to keep the skin clean while it's healing to prevent a bite from getting infected from too much scratching. This is your first line of defense against anything more serious than a maddening itch.

2. Use anti-itch creams. You can use over the counter anti-itch creams to help relieve the itching, according to MedlinePlus. The bites can itch for up to one or two weeks, so a good corticosteroid will help keep the itch at bay so you can avoid scratching.

3. Honey. Some suggest applying a very small amount of honey on a bandage to cover the bite. Honey has long been regarded as a medicinal remedy, largely because of its antibacterial and wound-healing properties.

4. Tea tree oil. This essential oil is known for its healing properties. Follow this recipe for a chigger bite paste:

  • Mix 1/2 teaspoon of dish soap with a quarter cup of pineapple juice.
  • Add in 1/2 teaspoon of tea tree oil and stir them all together for at least a minute.
  • Add in 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and thoroughly stir it for several more minutes.

Once you have the paste, gently apply it on your bites and put a bandage on top to cover. This method will not only help stop the itch, but might actually help the skin to recover from the bites as well, shortening the duration of your symptoms.

But it's also smart to remember the number one chigger bite treatment: avoid getting them in the first place! Avoid hikes in moist, warm areas with lots of high vegetation, and if you must venture into these conditions, cover yourself well: wear long pants tucked into your socks, long sleeves — you get the idea. Stay safe out there!

View Article Sources
  1. "Chigger Bites." Advocate Children's Hospital.

  2. "Chiggers." MedlinePlus.

  3. Sood, Aditya, et al. “Wound Dressings and Comparative Effectiveness Data.” Advances in Wound Care, vol. 3, no. 8, Aug. 2014, pp. 511–29., doi:10.1089/wound.2012.0401

  4. "Tea Tree Oil." National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.