How to treat and prevent chigger bites

insider@insider.com (Erin Heger)
Chiggers are very small, but their bites can be itchy and annoying.
Chiggers are very small, but their bites can be itchy and annoying.

dna_beeb/Getty Images and TimVickers/Public domain

  • To treat chigger bites, you'll want to reduce itch with hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, or oral histamines. 

  • You can also soothe skin irritation with a cool compress or ice pack. 

  • To prevent chigger bites, you should use an insect repellent containing DEET, and wear long clothing if you're going into grassy or wooded areas. 

  • This article was medically reviewed by Sharleen St. Surin-Lord, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Visage Dermatology and assistant professor of dermatology at Howard University.

  • This story is part of Insider's complete guide to Bug Bites

Chiggers are a type of mite, or arthropod, in the family Trombiculidae. They are extremely small red bugs that measure about 1/60th of an inch —  barely visible with the naked eye — and you'd likely need a magnifying glass to see them.  

Only baby chiggers (or larvae) bite humans. They often live in tall blades of grass and will grasp onto you as you walk by. Their claws make holes in your skin, and they can inject their saliva into you, which has an enzyme that breaks down skin cells. The bugs then feed off your dying cells.

You're more likely to encounter chiggers in hot and humid environments. Chiggers can be found in every state, but are most widespread in warmer climates, like the southern region of the US. They are most active in the summer and die in temperatures below 42 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Chigger bites are rarely dangerous, but they can be extremely itchy. Here's what you need to know about identifying and treating chigger bites. 

What do chigger bites look like? 

What chigger bites look like on a human foot.
What chigger bites look like on a human foot.

TimVickers/Public domain

Chigger bites appear as itchy red bumps that may look like pimples, blisters, or small hives. 

They are usually found in parts of your body where the skin folds, like the crease of your elbow, or behind the knee. You may also find them in places where your clothing presses into your skin, like your waistline. 

The first sign of a chigger bite is excessive itchiness, which can persist for several hours, says Michael McLaughlin, a Wilderness EMT and EMS provider in California. They often appear in groups and can get bigger and itchier over several days, and may resemble a mosquito bite. 

How to treat chigger bites

Try not to scratch the bites, as this can cause the bite to become infected. Most of the time, however, chigger bites are not dangerous or harmful and you can easily treat and reduce the itching sensation with the following home remedies:

  • Wash the area with soap and water to help reduce the risk of infection.

  • Over-the-counter anti-itch creams, such as hydrocortisone or calamine lotion, can help relieve itching.

  • An over-the-counter antihistamine like Zyertec or Claritin can also help reduce itching. 

  • Taking a cool bath or applying ice packs can also help reduce irritation.

Chigger bites often go away on their own within a few days, McLaughlin says, but if over-the-counter creams aren't helping — or you notice signs of infection like swelling, heat and redness, discharge, and tenderness — you should see a doctor. 

How to prevent chigger bites

Prevention is key to avoiding all kinds of bug bites, including chiggers. 

Chiggers are most active in the spring, summer, and fall, so if you are out in warm weather, try to avoid tall grass or bushy areas. Other ways to prevent chigger bites include:

  • Wear long sleeves and pants that can be tucked into your socks or boots to protect your ankles if you're going into tall grassy areas. 

  • Use an insect repellent with DEET, especially along your waistband and shirt neck. Be careful to avoid your face and mouth — and don't use DEET for children fewer than two months old

  • Take a shower as soon as you come in from extended periods of time outdoors. 

  • Wash your clothes in your washing machine with hot, soapy water. The hot water and soap will kill the chiggers, but they can survive in cold or even warm water. 

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