What in the World Are Chiggers?!

By Kelly Haverkamp | blog

Sep 21

I grew up camping; insect bites were simply part of my childhood. Frog hunting with my Uncle Ed, riding horses at my Aunt Fran’s, and getting so muddy my own mother wouldn’t recognize me in a lineup were all normal occurrences for me and my older sister.

So between time spent outdoors, and now working in a company which specializes in pest management, I thought I was pretty well equipped with knowledge about creepy-crawlers and their habits.

And then I met my match…

Have you ever heard of chiggers? I hadn’t.

Rewind back to Labor Day weekend for a minute. I had plans for a BBQ with friends on Monday, so I decided to spend my Sunday being a bum. Armed with a big cup of iced coffee and my latest book obsession, I took residence on my back porch to hunker in for a long afternoon of reading and enjoying the beautiful weather.

Six hours later – hey, I already admitted to being a bum! – I came in the house, cooked dinner and spent some time with family who came over to visit. The rest of the night continued on as normal.

The next morning…

I am getting my shower and notice some weird bumps on my legs. Knowing my tendency to get bug bites, I don’t think much about them. I throw on a pair of jeans and head out the door to my friend’s BBQ… That night as I’m changing into pajamas, I realize those little bumps I saw earlier are a lot worse than I originally noticed. Not only is there more than before, but the affected area is bright red with irritation.

Both feet. My left ankle to about four inches up my calf. My right ankle to up my calf to up my hip. A few marks on my stomach on the right side. Both forearms. And a few spots on the back of my left arm by my armpit. ALL WITH RED BUMPS.

At this point, I am completely dumbfounded. 

I assume it is some allergic reaction of sorts; it is only red marks and some places look a little like tiny blisters… maybe I rubbed up against something out back when I was in the yard or my dog did and then came and laid on my legs like she normally does. I go to bed and wake the next morning for work without giving it too much further thought.

And then the torture began!

When I tell you that I would not wish chigger bites upon my worst enemy, you need to understand how serious I am!

By day 2, my bites were beginning to itch. I decided they were in fact not just a reaction to something (OBVIOUS in hindsight!). As I was sitting at work, Mike Allen – one of the company’s owners and founders – is telling the office staff about the chigger bites he and his son got over the weekend from fishing. He described them being clustered together and explained how chiggers normally target areas on the body which clothing is tighter. For example, belted pants, sock and shoes borders, etc.

It was a classic light bulb over my head type of moment. I pulled my pant leg up and immediately demanded he look at my bites. He probably originally thought I was crazy because I offered no explanation of why I wanted him to look at my legs. Haha Ooops!

After confirming the bites were in fact from chiggers…

Mike decided to take advantage of my naïveté – like any good boss would do! Catching on to the fact that I did not have any experience with chiggers, Mike told me that the bumps were a result of the insect burrowing under your skin.

GRAB THE LIGHTER FLUID AND A MATCH! CUT MY LEGS OFF! ICK! HELP!

As I’m sure you can expect, I was revolted by the thought that little bugs were under my skin. Thankfully, because I grew up in a digital world, I immediately went to Google to confirm his diagnosis.

CHIGGERS DO NOT BURROW UNDER YOUR SKIN.

Everyone got that? Reread that if you have to.

It is just an old wives’ tale. Do not let anyone convince you otherwise… or you may panic like I did and prepare yourself for self-performed surgery. HA!

Using the burrowing theory as a springboard, the clear nail polish trick you’ll read about is also false. Some people say to apply nail polish over the bite to “suffocate” the bug, but as we just cleared up, there is no bug to suffocate in the bite.

Chiggers are members of the arachnid family and are incredibly tiny. You will not see them without magnification of some sort.

chigger-size

So what CAN you do if you find yourself a victim of chigger bites?

  • Try to avoid scratching. This will be the absolute hardest thing you’ve ever tried to avoid. I never had chicken pox as a kid, but this is how I envision they feel. Every time your clothing moves, every time you brush against something, you will itch and itch and itch.
  • Look for a cooling gel or cream designed for after care of bites and other outdoor ailments like poison ivy. I found Benadryl cooling gel to be fantastic. The cooling helps the itchiness while the Benadryl helps with the swelling – because, oh yeah, that will happen too! If you have a really bad case, try also taking Benadryl orally. I took one each day for about a week.
  • Take very hot, soapy showers. The hot water and soap will knock any bugs off of your skin if still there. The heat feels good on the bites too which is a nice bonus.
  • Cold compresses and soaking the area in an oatmeal bath can also be short term comforts.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see a reduction in bites or redness quickly.

Chigger bites can take anywhere from 1-3 weeks to completely heal. I am two weeks into this ordeal and I am happily reporting that my bites no longer itch as fiercely as before. Going 5 minutes without itching used to be an unattainable feat, but now I can go the whole day without going to town on my bites. It is hard not to scratch, but keep in mind that when you reopen the bite, you are risking infection and scaring.

Below are a few pictures of my legs about 5 days after first being bit. Unfortunately, I was unable to shave my legs due to the bites til a few days ago, so you’ll have to look past that! Ha!

chigger-bites-1 chigger-bites-2-feature-image chigger-bites-3 chigger-bites-4 chigger-bites-5 chigger-bites-7

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