Chiggers: Step Away from the Nail Polish
Video by Michaela Parker
Being outside in the summertime can feel like a battle against nature. Mosquitoes. Ticks. Chiggers.
I hate chiggers, also called redbugs. I also hate all of the myths that surround these pesky little critters and treating their bites.
You know what I’m talking about. You say, “Ugh, I got into some chiggers,” and everyone has a helpful hint passed on by their great-great grandmother that is sure to deal with your problem.
Myth #1: Chiggers burrow into your skin, so you have to treat them with something to “get them out” or suffocate them. Usually someone suggests nail polish or a highly caustic cleaning product, such as bleach.
Science: Mississippi State University Extension entomologists Dr. Blake Layton and Dr. Jerome Goddard confirmed chiggers don’t burrow. “Chiggers usually attach at the base of a hair follicle and begin injecting digestive fluid into the skin. This digestive fluid dissolves skin cells, chemically boring a hole into the skin. It is our bodies’ reaction to the saliva and digestive enzymes that causes the itching.”
Please don’t put nail polish or other harsh chemicals on those red bumps left behind by the chiggers. Your skin is trying to recover from a flesh-eating assailant. So be kind to yourself.
Solution: Bathe in hot soapy water as soon as you come inside. Use a washcloth to scrub the skin and wash away any remaining chiggers. Wash clothing as soon as possible in case any chiggers hitchhiked indoors. (Apparently, chiggers take a while to settle down to eat, so even if some have already started treating you as an appetizer, you can prevent a full feast. If left alone, they can stay attached and continue eating for several days.)
Treat bites with calamine lotion or an antihistamine cream, or an oral antihistamine, to reduce itching.
Myth #2: Chiggers carry diseases the way mosquitoes and ticks do.
Science: Partly false. In the U.S., chiggers do not carry disease organisms. They’re just incredibly annoying. They barely pierce the skin and do not carry blood-borne illnesses. Any infection that arises from chigger bites is likely local due to excessive scratching.
Solution: Children are especially prone to scratching at bites, so be sure to clip their fingernails, repeatedly apply calamine lotion, and use an oral antihistamine suitable for their ages. If scratching is severe, you may need to cover with a light bandage.
Myth #3: There’s nothing we can do about chiggers. Suffering is our destiny.
Science: Chiggers prefer untidy landscapes. Keeping the grass cut, bushes trimmed, and weeds pulled can reduce chigger populations.
Solution: If you work or play outside, try to steer clear of tall weeds and shrubs. If that’s impossible, wear long pants, high-topped boots, and a lightweight long-sleeved shirt. Apply a permethrin-based insect repellent to *clothing* not directly to your skin.
To learn more about insects in Mississippi, subscribe to the Bug’s Eye View newsletter.
Need help controlling bugs in your yard? Check out Extension Publication 2331, Control of Insect Pests In and Around the Home Lawn.
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