April 20, 2016

Take precautions outdoors to avoid itchy skin.


Warm weather beckons us outside, but it also brings out the creepy crawlies. Sometimes we don’t think about chiggers (mites of the Trombiculidae family) until our sensitive areas are covered in itchy bites. The red arachnids are too tiny to see, and the larvae are actually the ones causing the problem. We answer your questions about prevention and treatment.


Where are chiggers?

Chiggers are all over the mid-South, even in your backyard and garden. They favor tall and damp grasses, wooded areas, berry patches and streams.


How do I reduce my risk of being bitten?

When possible, cover up with long pants and long sleeves, and tuck pants into your boots. Spraying skin and clothing with an insect repellant containing DEET will help prevent bites. You may also be able to find sulfur powder or sulfur-containing lotions at an outdoor supply store or even your local drugstore.

Whatever you use, pay special attention to skinfolds, waistbands, the groin area, bra lines, sock lines and your underarms. That’s where chiggers like to bite, according to MedlinePlus. Of course, be careful not to irritate your skin with repellants. Lastly, be sure to shower with warm, soapy water immediately after spending time outdoors, and wash your clothing before wearing it again.


Do chiggers burrow into the skin?

No. Chiggers do not burrow or lay eggs in your pores. Instead, their saliva forms a stylostome, a microscopic straw or feeding tube, in the skin. The intense itch we sometimes experience from chigger bites is really from their saliva dissolving our skin cells.


Is it true that nail polish will help the itch?

No. This myth stems from the myth that chiggers burrow into the skin. People used to think that by dotting nail polish on a bite, they’d suffocate the chigger. However, by the time you realize you have a chigger bite, the chigger is long gone.


What does help?

Over-the-counter anti-itch creams such as Calamine lotion or those containing cortisone will provide relief. First-aid remedies containing Lidocaine are also helpful.


What complications arise from chiggers?

Aside from the intense itch, chigger bites are usually harmless. However, excessive scratching can lead to an infection. Signs of infection may include swelling, redness, pus and warmth at the site of the bites.