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How to Keep Chiggers from Biting

Digestive enzymes left in chigger bites can drive a person crazy with itching. What are the best ways to keep chiggers from biting?
How to Keep Chiggers from Biting
Young woman is scratching herself on arm

Chiggers, also known as red bugs or berry bugs, are among the annoyances of summer. Unlike ticks or mosquitoes, they don’t carry deadly diseases in the US. But their bites swell, redden and itch maddeningly. Can you keep chiggers from biting when you are outside?

How to Keep Chiggers from Biting:

Q. I am extremely susceptible to chigger bites. I never know where they are lurking.

I like to garden in my back yard and hike in the woods. A day or two later I am covered with bites that itch like crazy and then blister. They are ugly and take weeks to heal.

I have two questions. What can I do to prevent chiggers from biting me in the first place? If I get a bite, what can I do to control the itching and speed healing?

A. Chiggers (Trombiculidae) are tiny mites that climb on grasses and bushes waiting for unsuspecting prey to mosey by. Contrary to folklore, chiggers do not burrow under the skin but they do bite and afterwards they leave digestive enzymes behind. Some people like you are highly allergic to their enzymes and experience extreme itching, redness and swelling.

Keeping Chiggers Off Skin:

The best way to prevent bites is to make sure you never venture outside without protection. Tuck long pants into the tops of socks and coat your shoes, socks and pants legs with a highly effective insect repellent. Consumer Reports rates Sawyer Picaridin highly against ticks, mosquitoes and other bugs. Another option is DEET (OFF! Deepwoods VIII or Ben’s 30 percent DEET Tick & Insect Wilderness Formula). Permethrin-containing products like Repel can be applied to clothing as well. Any of these repellents should be used according to instructions, of course.

Easing the Itch:

Once a bite appears, hot water may temporarily ease the itching, but a strong corticosteroid gel is the best solution. You will need a prescription from your doctor for that.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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