Be Prepared For Chigger Season When Going Outdoors
Photo Credit: NPS by Dirk Oden
Don’t let them ruin your camping and outdoor adventure trip!
Have you heard the expression “Spring showers bring May flowers”? The bad news is that it is also the start of the chigger season! Yes, chiggers have a season, which ranges from May through October.
They are the larvae form of a red trombiculid mite, have six legs and are less than 1/50th of an inch in length, barely visible to the naked eye. Their habitat is low and damp vegetation with partial sunlight, therefore are mostly found close to the surface of the ground in forests, grassy fields, gardens, parks and around lakes and rivers.
Chiggers like to take a hitch a ride on your pant cuffs, shirt sleeves or collars when you come in contact with vegetation, and then will find their way onto your skin to feed. When a chigger bites, it injects saliva into the skin that contains a digestive enzyme which causes skin cells to rupture and turn to liquid. The chigger then drinks the dissolved, partially digested skin tissue. If left alone, a chigger may feed for a few days!
After a bite, your skin will react by hardening the cells around the chigger’s saliva path into a tubular structure called a stylostome. It’s your body’s reaction to the stylostome that causes the symptoms. So the best way to fight them is to be prepared before you head out to your next campsite, and pack your clothing and first aid kit accordingly if you are going to chigger territory.
Tips for chigger bite prevention
- Wear long pants and long sleeve shirts, thick socks and high shoes or boots. Tucking pant legs into shoes or boots helps.
- After being outdoors, shower with soap and water after to remove chiggers that are on the move.
- If you are away from home, rubbing your skin with a moist towel or cloth also helps to remove any chiggers.
- Wash the clothes you used outdoors to kill the ones that may still be on them.
- Temperature affects chiggers: they don’t like to be below 60°F or above 90°F.
- Use an insect repellent that contains DEET and spray it on your clothes.
Chigger bite treatment
Common myths about home remedies for chiggers include nail polish, alcohol and bleach to suffocate or kill them. But these are based on the incorrect belief that they burrow in your skin, therefore those methods are useless.
Once bitten, all there is to do is try to relieve the itch as much as possible, but no matter what product you decide to use, there is nothing you can do to dislodge the stylostome. This means there is no “real cure” for chigger bites, you just need to give the body time to heal.
Unlike a tick, chiggers do not carry disease but the intense itching may lead to prolonged scratching, and this may lead to skin wounds which become a risk for skin infections.
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