The many chigger “home remedies” used by devotees have not been tested to verify effectiveness.
Most, however, are misguided or developed from an incorrect understanding of chigger biology. This includes the widespread myth that using nail polish “kills” the imbedded chigger.
Relief from itching can come in many forms. One requirement for stopping itching is to seal the skin from contact with air. That’s why many remedies, including nail polish appear to work.
Similar results can occur with Calamine, Vaseline, cold cream, and baby oil. Better relief often comes from products that seal the skin and contain antihistamines: for example, caldaria or hydrocortisone salves and creams.
Products that contain local anesthetics and analgesics also effectively alleviate symptoms for most people. Consult your physician or pharmacist for further assistance in choosing which product to use.
The term “chigger” is a common name used to describe the larval stage of a certain group of mites.
These mites are parasitic on warm-blooded animals during their larval development and produce bites that cause intense itching and the formation of small, reddish welts.
Almost invisible to the naked eye, chiggers can be seen, when clustered together, because of their natural bright red color.
A widespread misconception is that chiggers burrow into the skin and eventually die there. The fact is they’re not equipped to burrow under the skin, and they don’t drink blood.
The chigger’s mouth parts are short and delicate and can only penetrate thin skin or where skin wrinkles or folds: usually around the ankles, backs of knees, waistline, and armpits.
It can take three to four days to complete a meal if left undisturbed. If a chigger is removed before it completes its meal, it can’t bite again and will eventually die.
The longer the chigger feeds, the larger the welt surrounding the bite and the greater the intensity of itching.
Chiggers are active from spring to late fall but are most numerous in early summer when weeds, grass and other vegetative undergrowth are at their heaviest, according to Horticulture and Home Pest News.
Chiggers are closely related to ticks and spiders and pass through the same four stages of development: the egg, larva, nymph, and adult.
After feeding, the larva detaches from the animal and finds a protected place on the ground where it develops through the nymph stage into an adult. Both nymphs and adults feed on insect eggs or other small insects.
Under favorable conditions, most chigger species complete their development in about 40 to 70 days.
On humans, chiggers prefer places where the clothing fits tightly over the skin or where the skin is thin or wrinkled.
Control of chiggers in parks, recreation areas or campgrounds is probably impractical. However, the likelihood of encountering chiggers in these areas can be reduced by applying personal insect repellents, by wearing loose-fitting clothing, and by never sitting or reclining directly on the ground.
In addition, taking a hot, soapy bath or shower immediately after returning from likely chigger-infested areas can remove the chiggers before they have had the opportunity to attach and feed.
The worst chigger infestations I’ve experienced followed times when I sat or lay down in a sunny spot along the ridges of the New River Gorge.
When I do that again, you can bet that I’ll tuck my pant legs inside my boots and either button or tape my shirt cuffs and collars as tightly as possible (I might even take a can of repellent and spray myself while I’m in the field).
When I get home, I’ll undress and hop into a scalding tub of water.
And if I feel an itch, I’ll probably scratch, but I’ll resist the temptation to dab nail polish on the wound, or singing, “I’ve got you under my skin…”
Top o’ the morning!