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What's a Chigger?

Chiggers are tiny (most can only be seen with a magnifying glass) and red, and they are a type of mite. Mites aren't insects — they are arachnids and part of the same family as spiders, scorpions, and ticks.

Chiggers are found all over the place, including in grassy fields, along lakes and streams, and in forests. There are adult chiggers and baby chiggers (called larvae), but only the baby chiggers bother people and animals.

Chiggers have tiny claws that allow them to attach tightly onto people and animals. Once attached, they are able to pierce the skin and inject their saliva, which contains digestive juices that dissolve skin cells. The chigger then slurps up the dissolved skin cells. To the chigger, this is a tasty meal! Having a chigger do this is very irritating to your skin.

After a few days, the chigger will be done feeding and fall off a person's skin, leaving behind a red welt where it had once been.

What a Bite Looks and Feels Like

If a person gets bitten by a chigger, the bite will be very itchy. A chigger bite will cause a tiny red bump, which will get bigger and itchier as time goes on. The itchy bump can last for days or even a couple of weeks.

What You Should Do

If you think you've been bitten by a chigger, wash the bite with soap and water. Put on some calamine lotion or cool compresses to help with the itching, or an adult can find an anti-itch cream or medicine at the drugstore for you. Try not to scratch the bites too much, because this can make the bites become infected.

What a Doctor Will Do

Because chigger bites are so itchy, many people do get an infection from scratching the bites. If this happens, the doctor will prescribe a medication to help with the itching and a medicine to clear up the infection.

How to Avoid Getting Bitten

The best way to avoid getting bitten by a chigger is to wear an insect repellent. Ask your parents to apply one that contains 10% to 30% DEET.

When it's possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants outside, especially if you'll be hiking or playing in fields.

Once you come in from being in an outdoor area that may have chiggers, take a hot shower and use plenty of soap. Also, be sure to wash your clothes in hot water to kill any chiggers that might be living there.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: April 2013

 
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