Chiggers are the larvae of a type of mite in the Trombiculidae family. Mites are arachnids just like spiders and ticks. While chiggers are found all throughout the world. They are most commonly found in forests, grassy fields, gardens, parks, and in moist areas around lakes or rivers. Most of the larvae that cause chigger bites are found on plants that are close to the ground surface because they require a high level of humidity in order to survive.
Chiggers are barely visible to the naked eye as their length is less than 1/150th of an inch. A lot of times a magnifying glass may be needed to see them. They are red in color and may be best seen when clustered in groups on the skin. Chigger mites infest human skin when you come into contact with vegetation. They migrate on to the skin in search of an optimal feeding area. A common myth about chiggers is that they burrow into and remain inside the skin. This is simply not true. Chiggers insert their feeding structures into the skin and inject enzymes that cause destruction of tissue. This Hardens the surrounding skin resulting in the formation of a feeding tube called a stylostome. Chigger larvae then feed upon the destroyed tissue as long as they are not disturbed which is rarely the case because they cause substantial itching.
Because a chigger’s mouth and feeding structure are very delicate they are best able to penetrate the skin in areas that have wrinkles, folds, or other areas of skin that are thin. Most bites occur around the ankles, the crotch, the groin, behind the knees, and in the armpits. Barriers to migration such as belts are one reason that chigger bites also occur at the waist or at other areas where their migration is prevented by compression from clothing.
A chigger bite itself is not noticeable at all. After the chigger has begun to inject the digestive enzymes into the skin symptoms typically begin. This is usually 1-3 hours after the initial bite has occurred. Symptoms are:
– Extreme itching.
– Most intense itching 1-2 days after the bite.
– The bite area may be reddened, flat, or raised and sometimes it can resemble a blister.
– The itching persists for several days and complete resolution of the skin lesions can take up to two weeks.
Many home remedies for chigger bites are based upon the incorrect belief that chiggers burrow into and remain in the skin. Nail polish, alcohol, and bleach have been applied to the bites in an attempt to suffocate or kill the chiggers. But because the chiggers are not present in the skin these methods are not effective at all.
Treatment for chigger bites should be directed toward relieving the itching and inflammation. Calamine lotion and corticosteroid creams may be used to control itching. Oral antihistamines such as Benadryl may also be used for symptom relief.
Chiggers in North America are not known to carry any diseases unlike some other insects and chigger bites themselves do not produce any long term complications. However, because of the intense itching prolonged scratching can lead to skin wounds that may become infected by bacteria. Washing with soap and water after outdoor activity may remove any chiggers that may be migrating on the skin and prevent their bites. Likewise washing clothing that was worn outdoors will kill any chiggers remaining on the clothing.
Attention to the outdoor temperatures can help with prevention of chigger bites as well. Chiggers do not bite at colder temperatures (below 60 F or 15.5 C). Chiggers also are not found in areas hotter temperatures (99 F or 37.2 C) so hot rocky areas on sunny days can provide chigger free seats.
As with mosquito bites proper outdoor clothing can help prevent chigger bites. Long pants and long sleeved shirts as well as thick socks and high shoes or boots can help prevent infestation. Pants legs should be tucked into shoes or boots if possible.
All mosquito repellents (such as DEET), applied to skin and clothing, are effective at repelling chiggers.
Keep your chigger population down and schedule a weed trimming service today!
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