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Chiggers

Definition

Chiggers are tiny, 6-legged wingless organisms (larvae) that mature to become a type of mite. Chiggers are found in tall grass and weeds. Their bite causes severe itching.

Alternative Names

Harvest mite; Red mite

Causes

Chiggers are found in certain outdoor areas, such as:

  • Berry patches
  • Tall grass and weeds
  • Edges of woodlands

Chiggers bite humans around the waist, ankles, or in warm skin folds. Bites commonly occur in the summer and fall months.

Symptoms

The main symptoms of chigger bites are:

Itching usually occurs several hours after the chiggers attach to the skin. The bite is painless.

A skin rash may appear on the parts of the body that were exposed to the sun. It may stop where the underwear meets the legs. This is often a clue that the rash is due to chigger bites.

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider can diagnose chiggers by examining the rash.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to stop the itching. Antihistamines and corticosteroid creams or lotions may be helpful. Antibiotics are not necessary unless you also have another skin infection.

Possible Complications

A secondary infection may occur from scratching.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if the rash itches very badly, or if your symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment.

Prevention

Avoid outdoor areas that you know are contaminated with chiggers. Applying bug spray containing DEET to skin and clothing can help prevent chigger bites.

References

Diaz JH. Mites, including chiggers. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014:chap 297.

Elston DM. Arthropods and leeches. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 367.

Review Date:12/7/2014
Reviewed By:Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Associate Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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