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Chigger Bites - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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This article deals with the pieces of information about chigger bites, also known as trombiculiasis or trombiculosis.

Written by

Dr. Karthika Rp

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Shubadeep Debabrata Sinha

Published At November 24, 2022
Reviewed AtDecember 21, 2023


"Chigger" is the name of the mites belonging to the family of species Trombiculid. The bites from the larva mite cause chigger bites characterized by pruritus and irritation. Chigger bites are also known as trombiculosis or trombiculiasis. Trombiculiasis is the hypersensitivity reaction in the human body due to the chigger bite and papules, erythema, and urticaria that characterize the condition. Hypersensitivity reactions are due to the action of digestive enzymes in the larvae mite. The most commonly referred chiggers are Eutrombicula alfreddugesi, Trombicula autumnalis, and the species belonging to the genus Leptotrombidium.

What Are Chigger Bites?

Chigger bites or trombiculiasis are the bites of the larvae mite belonging to the species of the Trombiculid family. Chigger bites cause hypersensitivity reactions in the human skin. The bite of chiggers which includes Eutrombicula alfreddugesi, Trombicula autumnalis, and the species belonging to the genus Leptotrombidium, causes trombiculiasis. Trombiculiasis is usually a self-limiting and benign condition. It is observed that chiggers are common in summer conditions and affect people of any age. Maturation of larval mites occurs between June and September in the northern hemisphere.

What Does a Chigger Bite Look Like?

Chiggers' bites look like a red bump in the bitten area. The red bump is similar to pimples, blisters, or hives. Chigger bites are usually present on the waist, ankles, and in the warmer region of the skin folds. Over days, the red bump grows bigger and starts to appear in groups. The red bumps due to the chigger bites will heal in a week or more. Sometimes the larval mite is seen over the papule. The clusters of red papules, vesicles, and bullae occur later.

What Are the Symptoms of Chigger Bites?

Chigger bites are due to the bite of larvae mites. Chigger bite is a benign condition and is not dangerous. Nevertheless, chigger bites cause itching and a strong urge to scratch the skin.

The various symptoms of chigger bites are mentioned below.

  • Papules, small raised bump on the chigger bite area.

  • Erythematous, red bump.

  • Urticaria.

  • Pain.

  • Itching.

  • Swelling.

  • Blistering.

  • Pruritus.

  • Irritation.

Sometimes chiggers cause severe allergic reactions in the bitten area. One of the severe allergic conditions is called summer penile skin. Chigger bites on the penile skin cause summer penile syndrome.

A severe allergic reaction to chigger bites presents with the following symptoms.

  • Summer penile syndrome: hypersensitivity reactions in the penile skin due to chigger bite. Summer penile syndrome is also known as the lion's mane penis. These syndromes present with edema over the penile skin or foreskin.

  • Other symptoms of summer penile syndrome or lion's mane penis include itching and dysuria, known as difficulty in urination.

  • Difficulty in breathing.

  • Fainting.

  • Dizziness.

  • Widespread red bumps.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

What Is a Chigger?

Chiggers are the larval stage of mites belonging to the family Trombiculidae. Chiggers are also known as spider mites, berry bugs, harvest mites, bush mites, scrub itch mites, and red bugs. The activity of chiggers is higher in summer; chiggers bite people and cause itching and small erythematous papules. Sometimes the larval maturation in the parasitic stage feeds on the human skin; it is light reddish to orange in color and measures about 0.15 mm to 0.3 mm in length.

The biological details of chiggers are mentioned below.

  • Family: Trombiculidae.

  • Order: Trombidiformes.

  • Class: Arachnida.

  • Kingdom: Animalia.

  • Phylum: Arthropoda.

  • Superfamily: Trombidiidae.

  • Life Cycle: Chiggers' life cycle has five main stages; egg, larva, prelarval, nymph, and adult.

What Causes the Chigger Bites?

Chigger bites or trombiculiasis happen due to the larval bite of chiggers on human skin during summer or in any outdoor activities. Chigger bites cause a localized hypersensitivity reaction in the host epidermis, which gets liquified by the digestive enzymes. The larval mites secrete the digestive enzymes into the host epidermis during a chigger bite. Papules are formed initially, and irritation begins. Sometimes the mite is seen within the papule or on the papule. Chiggers on the right border of clothes or underwear, within socks and shoes, favor chigger bites.

How to Diagnose the Chigger Bites?

Chigger activity is higher in summer, and the occurrence of chigger bites is higher in summer months. It is found that the patients with chigger bites due to occupational exposure are familiar with the effects of chigger bites. The physical examination reveals the linear or grouped pattern of papules in the bitten area. The most involved site for chigger bites is the warmer zone present in the border of tight clothes, and in adults, the penile skin is commonly affected by chigger bites. Proper history must be evaluated, including outdoor exposure in suburban yards, the park, gardens, and farms. Diagnosis of chigger bites is made with the appropriate history and physical examination.

What Is the Differential Diagnosis of Chigger Bites?

Symptoms of chigger bites are the red papules on the affected site or the cluster of papules in the skin under tight clothes. Various bites of arthropods and fleas will appear with similar symptoms. Comparison of symptoms in such conditions helps in differential diagnosis and avoids misdiagnosis of chigger bites.

Some of the differential diagnoses of chigger bites are mentioned below.

  • Rashes from infective agents.

  • Autoimmune conditions.

  • Allergic reactions.

  • Sensitivity reactions.

  • Balanitis.

  • Phimosis.

  • Paraphimosis.

  • Cellulitis.

  • Abscesses.

What Is the Treatment for Chigger Bites?

Treatment management of chigger bites is done to control the symptoms. Topical therapy is given to resolve the pruritis and irritation. Hypersensitivity reactions can be treated with oral antihistamines. Proper counseling and patient awareness are done to prevent the reinfection of chigger bites.

The treatment of chigger bites is mentioned below.

  • Oral antihistamines.

  • Topical corticosteroid cream.

  • Cold compresses to reduce swelling.

  • The affected area must be protected to avoid reexposure.

  • Antibiotics for the infected site.

How to Prevent Chigger Bites?

Prevention is always better than cure in many conditions. Preventive measures must be followed to avoid chigger bites in outdoor activities or chigger-prone areas.

The various preventive methods to follow to prevent chigger bites are mentioned below.

  • Application of DEET N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, an active insect repellent, a chemical compound that will prevent outdoor attacks of chiggers.

  • Permethrin, an insecticide, can be used.

  • Natural products like coconut oil, eucalyptus, jojoba oil, geranium or lemongrass, and citronella oil keep the chiggers away.

  • Washing or scratching the area usually dislodges the mite from the skin.

  • Wear long sleeves and tuck the long pants into the socks to prevent chigger bites.


Chigger bites or trombiculiasis is a condition that arises due to the bite of a larval mite belonging to the family of species Trombiculidae. The symptoms of chigger bites are due to the hypersensitivity response of the host epidermis to the digestive enzymes secreted from the bitten chigger. Chigger bites are a self-limiting condition in most cases. Treatment is done to control the symptoms of chigger bites and to relieve pain and discomfort. Patient awareness about the condition is needed to prevent the chance of chigger bites.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Appearance of a Chigger Bite?

Chigger bites appear as red spots or look like pimples, small bumps, blisters, or small hives on the skin surface. It is associated with severe itching and is common in areas of tight clothing. The rash may take about 1 - 2 weeks to heal. Symptoms cannot be felt when the chigger clings to the body and bites the individual. One can feel the symptoms after a few hours of the bite.


How Do I Clear Chigger Bites?

Chigger bites are common in the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Chigger bites can be avoided by going near bushy areas, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, using tick repellents, washing clothes in hot water, etc. Chigger bites may take 1 - 3 weeks to heal. When affected by chigger bites, it is advisable to wash the area with soap and water, apply antiseptic, use over-the-counter ointments, avoid scratching, and apply ice on the site to relieve itching.


How Long Does It Take for Chigger Bites to Heal?

Chigger bites can occur in those who come in contact with chigger mites outdoors in wet, grassy, or wooded areas. Symptoms develop a few hours after the bite, and itching can be maximum during the first 24 - 48 hours. Chigger bites resolve independently and can take around 1 - 3 weeks to heal. Scratching the area due to itching should be avoided, and over-the-counter medications or ointments can be used to get relief from itching.


How Long Do Chiggers Stay on the Human Body?

Chiggers prefer warm and moist areas in humans. They cling to the skin through their claws, and they fix to the skin and inject saliva. The enzyme in the saliva breaks down the skin cells into a liquid form. The human body responds by thickening the skin cells surrounding the saliva, creating a stylostome tube through which the chigger draws the blood. They can remain attached and feed for 3 - 4 days before falling off the skin.


Can Chiggers Live In Bed?

Chiggers require a moist condition such as that of a host to thrive. They cling to the human body and stay up to 3 - 4 days before falling off after feeding. When they fall off, they can be found on the bed as small red spots but do not spread in the bed as adult chiggers cannot breed indoors without warm conditions and do not survive for long. In case of suspected chigger bites, the clothes and bedding should be washed thoroughly with soap and hot water.


What Are the Natural Ways to Kill Chiggers?

Chiggers are common in wet, grassy, or wooded areas. Natural ways to prevent chiggers are to mow the lawn regularly, plant marigolds since chiggers hate the strong scent of marigolds, and clean the leaf, wood piles, and pet house regularly. Diatomaceous earth is a natural remedy to kill chiggers, and these are non-toxic substances obtained from the fossilized remains of diatoms. These work by dehydrating, preventing the circulation of body fluids, or slicing the chiggers.


Do Chiggers Proliferate All Over the Body?

Chigger bites occur when the larvae of these mites cling to the person's skin and bite them when they pass through grassy, wet, or wooded areas. Chigger bites appear as small, red bumps or blisters around the area of tight clothing and can cause intense itching. Chigger bites do not spread from one person to another or all over the body since each mite bites only once at a specific site and falls off after feeding for 3-4 days.


Do Chiggers Breed in the Skin of Humans?

It is a myth that chiggers lay eggs in human skin. They cling to the skin's surface and do not tunnel or burrow into it. They inject digestive enzymes into the human skin, breaking down the skin cells into a liquid form. The body responds by thickening the area around the saliva, creating a stylostome tube through which the chiggers draw blood. After the chiggers are fed, they fall off the skin after 3 - 4 days.


Can Chigger Bites Be Left Untreated?

The symptoms after a chigger bite do not develop instantly, and it can take a few hours to notice them. There can be severe itching in the area of the bite. If left untreated, chiggers feed on the broken-down and liquefied skin cells for days or weeks. Itching may also persist without treatment. Prolonged itching and scratching can cause wounds that can get infected. Usually, the symptoms relieve on their own after a few days or can last for 1-3 weeks.


Do Chiggers Leave the Host on Their Own?

Chiggers cling to the skin surface and are common in areas of tight clothing. They cling to the skin surface and do not tunnel or burrow into it. They feed by injecting digestive enzymes into the skin, which breaks down the skin cells into a liquid form. After the chiggers are fed, they fall off the skin after 3 - 4 days. The chigger bites usually resolve on their own and can last for 1 - 3 weeks. They cannot breed indoors in a dry environment.


What Draws the Attention of Chiggers?

Chiggers in nature are attracted to wet, grassy, swampy, or wooded areas. In humans, they dwell around the regions of tight clothing. Chiggers are usually attracted to the carbon dioxide exhaled by humans. Warm and humid conditions attract chiggers the most. They stay at the base of the grass, and when they come in contact with human skin or other hosts, they cling to the skin surface.


At What Temperature Do Chiggers Die?

Chigger mites are sensitive to certain temperatures. A fall in temperature below 60°F (16°C) inactivates the chiggers. They die at a temperature below 42°F (6°C). If affected by chigger bite, it is advisable to take a bath in a hot shower and wash the clothes in hot water and soap. The clothes can be dried under the sun. Hot water, too, can kill the chigger mites. They thrive well in temperatures between 77-86°F.


How to Identify Chiggers in Beds?

Chiggers require a moist condition such as that of a host to thrive. They cling to the human body and stay up to 3 - 4 days before falling off. When they fall off, they can be found on the bed as small red spots but do not spread in the bed. Little specks of blood due to crushed chiggers, rusty-looking stains, black dots, or tiny orange or red-colored mites moving on the bed visible under a magnifying lens can be signs of chiggers.


Do Chigger Bites Cause Harm?

Chigger bites are not poisonous. Though they cause severe itching, they clear up on their own after a few days or after 1 - 3 weeks. Scrub typhus is a bacterial disease that can spread to humans through bites of infected chiggers, which can be life-threatening and occur in a few individuals. Other complications include cellulitis (a severe bacterial infection) due to wearing of the skin and summer penile syndrome (a skin condition that affects males due to chigger bites).


Are Chiggers Visible to the Naked Eye?

Chiggers are microscopic mites and cannot be appreciated by the naked eye. They are just about 1/50th of an inch in size and are visible only through a magnifying lens. They look like tiny spiders and are orange to red. Under a magnifying lens, they can appear as tiny red spots that remain attached to the skin surface or move very quickly. Chiggers cannot be felt when they cling or bite and can be noticed only when one develops red spots or itchiness.
Dr. Shubadeep Debabrata Sinha
Dr. Shubadeep Debabrata Sinha

Infectious Diseases


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