You may never want to walk through your yard again

Chiggers. I need write no more for many of you who are familiar with chigger bites. The itch. The burning.

I’m familiar with the physical torment chiggers can do only because my wife, Anne, frequently shows me red welts on her skin, caused by chigger bites. I’ve been fortunate. I can’t recall ever breaking out from a chigger attack. But then I don’t break out from poison ivy contact either. My wife, bless her heart, breaks out at the mere mention of ‘poison ivy.’ That changed for me today. While mowing a yard today I suddenly felt a pain under my socks on both legs. It was as if someone were holding a lighted match or shoving needles under my skin. When I got home and removed my socks I had red marks that were completely unfamiliar to me. I have never experienced anything quite like this.

There’s no doubt the culprit is chiggers. At least I hope it was chiggers and not several simultaneous spider bites on both legs. Chiggers are a nasty, microscopic mite larva. You probably can’t see them without a strong magnifying glass. They’re a parasite, sucking the blood from vertebrates, They typically live in tall grass and weeds and attach to your skin as you walk by. Once they attach themselves to your body, they can make their home there for days before falling off. During that time they inject their saliva into your skin. Humans usually break out from chigger bites on the lower legs or arms. Interestingly, this doesn’t mean it’s the only parts of our bodies that are prone to chigger bites. The pain we’re feeling isn’t the chigger bite itself. They are so tiny that we don’t feel the bite. The pain and itch comes from the skin’s reaction to the bite.

So I came home and showed the bites to my wife. She told me – incorrectly, it turns out – that the chigger buries itself under the skin and suggested a home remedy she has used. I decided to do some research, and discovered that chiggers do not, in fact bury under the skin. It is a common misconception. They inject their little feeding tubes into the skin and inject an enzime that destroys the tissue. Then, they feed on the dead tissue. Yuck!

Using home products such as fingernail remover, rubbing alcohol, bleach or hydrogen peroxide do not kill the mites or relieve the outbreak, even though many people swear they do. Treatment should target the itching. The Websites I viewed all recommend hydocortisone or Calamine lotion. Oral antihistamines also can give some relief of symptoms. I’m interested in hearing from you. Do you have any tried and true measures to give you relief from chigger bites? Clearly, avoiding tall grass and weeds is not an option in my line of work.

Let’s assume you’re interested in prevention as much as you are treatment. After all, you probably don’t want to enjoy your backyard this summer looking out through windows. There are several measures you can take to reduce the risk of chigger infestation, although I don’t find any of these actions particularly practical. Wear long pants and long sleeves. Tuck your pants legs inside socks. Sorry, but I can’t see myself walking around my backyard or the lawns I mow wearing long pants tucked inside my socks. I’m a little too vain for that. But if you’re determined to enjoy your backyard without the threat of chiggers, it’s an option. Using an insect or tick repellent will reduce the risk of chiggers. Shower as soon as you go inside and wash your clothes in hot water.

I hope you all enjoy a chigger-less summer.



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