Summer is here!
For most of us that means more time outside in the sun, at the beach, or in the forest. It’s all fun and games until you come home and find little red bumps all over your skin.
The worst part is they itch like crazy! Looks like you got attacked by chiggers.
But have no fear, chiggers do not carry disease and there are plenty of great treatments for their bites.
What are chiggers and how do we get them?
Chiggers are juveniles of the mite species Trombiculidae. Interestingly, the adults don’t bite, only the young’uns do. They are so small that you probably can’t see them with the naked eye but might be able to under a microscope (they are typically less than 0.3 mm or 1/150th of an inch).
Chiggers hang out in groups on bushes or grass, often near streams or lakes and especially where there are lots of small rodents. If you walk through areas like this and brush against some grass or bushes, chiggers may get on you or your clothes. They then spread out, looking for a good area to bite.
That’s why you can potentially get chigger bites in areas of your body that were covered up.
Chiggers are looking for a meal but can’t munch on your skin directly so they inject a feeding tube and enzymes in their saliva break down your skin. This is what causes the red, itchy welts known as chigger bites.
Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not burrow into your skin. Treatments for chigger bites such as applying nail polish, alcohol, or bleach will not work because these treatments are based on the false belief that chiggers burrow into your skin and need to be suffocated or washed out in some way.
Unfortunately, by the time you have noticed you have gotten attacked by these little devils known as chiggers, the only thing you can do is to control the itching.
If you think you have chigger bites, you can head over to my other post on identifying chigger bites and be sure it’s not something else.
Do you need to treat chigger bites?
Yes, you should. While you cannot treat the chigger bites directly, you can control the itching and this will help them heal on their own.
Scratching your chigger bites may make the inflammation worse or lead to infection which is the biggest danger with chigger bites, so it’s important to control the itching.
Here are the absolute best natural and over-the-counter treatments for chigger bites:
Natural and Home-made chigger bite remedies:
1) Lemon juice
You might be surprised at the relief that comes from squeezing tons of undiluted lemon juice on those chigger bites
2) Lime juice in coconut oil
As an alternative to straight lemon juice, you can mix lime juice in coconut oil and rub on your chigger bites. The coconut oil will help prevent your skin from drying out
Basil contains camphor, eugenol and thymol which are antimicrobial but, more importantly for chigger bites, anti-inflammatory. There are two ways to use basil to treat chigger bites:
Basil tea -- Most people prepare basil tea wrong. Here is how to prepare correctly: drop about half an ounce of basil leaves in about a pint of boiling water and cover. It’s important to cover because some of the key compounds that will help your itching will evaporate at such high temperatures. This is why simply boiling basil leaves or letting them steep uncovered will produce a tea that is much less effective at treating itchy chigger bites. Once the tea has cooled down, you can use a cotton ball or cloth to apply it to your chigger bites.
Basil paste -- take a few basil leaves and grind them using a mortar and pestle, in a food processor, or with a hand mixer. Add a few drops of water as your grind to make a paste. Rub the paste all over your chigger bites and feel the relief!
4) Cold shower or cold bath
You may be surprised how much cooling the infected area can produce relief. Take a cold shower (likely to also take your mind off the itching) or soak your chigger bites in a cold bath (easier if they are on your angle compared to your chest!)
5) Cold compress or ice
Cold itself helps relieve itching but if you are able to get the area cold enough using a frozen compress or a bag of ice, you will effectively numb your skin and may provide relief for a few hours.
6) Oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal
Oatmeal contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The anti-inflammatory part is important because that’s a big part of what’s causing the itching with chigger bites. If using oatmeal, simply dump 2-3 cups in your bathwater. You can gently scrub your chigger bites with the oatmeal. Colloidal oatmeal can be applied directly to the skin. You can buy colloidal oatmeal at most pharmacies or make your own following these directions.
7) Aloe Vera
Seriously, what skin ailment does aloe vera NOT treat? It is anti-inflammatory and the cooling sensation will feel amazing on those irritating chigger bites!
8) Mint tea
Traditional Chinese medicine uses mint as a treatment for hives and itching. Make a tea by placing about an ounce of dried mint leaves in a pint of boiling water and cover. Let it steep and cool for several minutes and do not let it sit without a cover as some of the medicinal compounds can evaporate from the hot water. When cool, apply to your skin using a cotton ball or cloth.
9) Baking soda
Baking soda can neutralize acid and has anti-inflammatory properties which make it effective for many types of bites. Mix a cup of baking soda into a bath and soak for 30 minutes -- 1 hour. Alternatively, make a paste with one part water and three parts baking soda and spread on your bites. Don’t use baking soda if your skin is broken.
10) Honey and Cinnamon
Honey naturally contains humectants which keep skin moist and are also known to prevent skin infections. Combined with cinnamon, this can make a powerful itch-soothing remedy. Mix equal parts cinnamon powder and honey to make a paste and apply to your bites.
11) Neem Leaves
Neem is an Ayurvedic herb traditionally used in India for purification and cleansing but is effective at treating many kinds of skin ailments. You can order whole dry leaves from Amazon or a powder at many pharmacies. If you have whole leaves, it takes a lot of heat to extract the effective compounds so you need to make a decoction of it by boiling the leaves in water for 15-20 minutes until the water is reduced in half. Once this is cooled, apply to your bites. Here is a video on how to make a decoction so you can be sure you make it right:
12) Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid which has been used for thousands of years as an antiseptic. You can dilute it 1:1 with water and apply to your skin. It is also ok to use undiluted but it may be a little harsh. Using it may reduce your risk for infection but don’t apply it to open wounds as the weak acid will sting.
13) Calamine Lotion
Calamine lotion is probably the go-to for most people when it comes to itching. It is safe to use, has no known drug interactions, and is effective. The active ingredient is zinc oxide but scientists haven’t totally figured out how it works. An allergic reaction can occur in rare cases. It is commonly available at most pharmacies and supermarkets.
14) Cortizone 10
Cortizone 10 is the most well-known brand of steroidal anti-itch creams that use the steroid hydrocortisone. Because it uses a steroid, you may want to be careful when using with young children. Some hydrocortisone is absorbed through the skin into the body -- less than 2% for adults but it may be more in children. With normal usage on an adult, this amount of hydrocortisone is unlikely to cause any side effects but excessive use on children is not recommended.
15) Benadryl Cream
While you may not be having an allergic reaction, benadryl cream can help with itching in general. The active ingredient is diphenhydramine and benadryl cream is made up of 2% of this anti-histamine.
16) Generic itch cream
Whether it is generic hydrocortisone cream or diphenhydramine, generic creams may be an effective, cheaper alternative to name brands. These creams have the same active ingredients as their brand name counterparts, but may have different inactive ingredients. For generic hydrocortisone creams, 1% hydrocortisone is a common strength.
17) Oral antihistamines
Particularly non-drowsy antihistamines such as fexofenadine (Allegra) and loratadine (Claritin). Other antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine) may be cheaper but they will make you drowsy. Check with your doctor before ingesting any drug.
There is nothing good about getting chigger bites but there are plenty of home remedies as well as over-the-counter treatments to relieve your suffering. It’s important to control the itching as scratching will prevent your chigger bites from healing fast and may lead to infection. Simply choose your favorite treatment or a combination of several and let those chigger bites heal.
How can you be sure it was chiggers that bit you? Click here to be learn how to identify chigger bites and be sure it’s not something else (like bed bugs!)