First Aid Treatment for Chiggers
We were recently asked our opinion on first aid treatment for chigger bites by an instructor who was teaching in an area known for chiggers. A quick poll of our office in California told us that many of our staff had never even heard of chiggers! There are many assumptions about chiggers, so we want our instructors to be prepared to provide students with accurate information if you teach in a region prone to chiggers. Here are some first aid recommendations for recognizing and treating chigger bites.
What is a Chigger?
Chiggers are tiny, wingless organisms that mature to become a type of mite. They are barely visible to the naked eye but leave quite the impression on any unsuspecting soul. Chiggers are found in certain outdoor areas, such as tall grass and weeds, and tend to appear in summer and fall months.
A common myth is that chiggers burrow into the skin and remain there. This is not the case. Instead, they insert their feeding structure into the skin and inject digestive enzymes that cause destruction of the host tissue, feeding upon the destroyed tissue. Most bites occur around the ankles or in warm skin folds like behind the knees.
Symptoms of Chigger Bites
Once chiggers have had their fill, they drop off your skin, but the symptoms remain. Chigger bite symptoms include severe itching and red pimple-like bumps or blisters. Symptoms usually appear 1-3 hours after the initial bite and are most intense within 1-2 days after the bite.
Treating Chigger Bites
Many of us from the Midwest grew up hearing all sorts of home remedies to treat these little itchy pests. Most home remedies centered around the myth that chiggers burrow. We often used clear nail polish and alcohol to “suffocate” the chiggers, which was ultimately ineffective.
We recommend instead treating the itching and inflammation that is associated with chigger bites. Take a cool shower or apply a cool compress. Use bath products that contain colloidal oatmeal to soothe skin. Consider using over-the-counter (OTC) medications like calamine lotion or corticosteroid creams to control itching. Oral antihistamines can also be used to help relieve symptoms.
The itching should subside within several days, and the skin lesions may take up to two weeks to heal. Note, scratching can lead to wounds that may become infected. If you have signs of infection (redness, warmth, increased pain, drainage, swelling or fever), seek medical care.