by Tammy Taylor~
Summer is here for sure in NE Texas y’all. It’s HOT! Now I love Texas, but we have some pesky things to deal with here. The heat & humidity are certainly something to contend with. And some of the bugs & pests are too. Out here on the Homestead I’m constantly on the lookout for copperhead snakes, stinging wasps, scorpions, fire ants and to me the worst offender – the tiny chigger.
Oh the chiggers are brutal this time of year. You stroll out into your pasture to check the cows and before you know it you’re covered with maddenly itchy red bumps. This discomfort can stay for 2-3 weeks in some cases. YIKES! There are many home remedies for chigger bites, and much misinformation as well. Today I thought I’d address the chigger and its tormentious bite.
Crazy Chigger-Bite Remedies
Many people think the tiny chigger actually borrows beneath your skin which is causing the swelling & itching. So they try all manner of remedies to ‘kill’ the chigger in an attempt to relieve the itching.
Now I’ve heard all kinds of wild tales, most of which start with purposely scratching the skin raw to expose the chigger that’s supposedly buried in their skin. (YIKES!) Please, please don’t do that – it’s just an open invite to infection!
Some say to spray Lysol on the wounds after they’re scratched raw so you can kill the buried chigger. Others swear by pouring bleach on the raw wounds. Yep, you heard that right – bleach. Wow.
I’ve heard of clawing the bumps open to expose the chigger and then dabbing on clear fingernail polish to suffocate them.
Or once again clawing the bump until it’s raw & open, then pouring alcohol on it to kill the burrowed in chigger. OUCH!
Chiggers Aren’t Burrowed In
Let me put this fallacy to rest. Chiggers don’t actually burrow into your skin. They bite you and inject an enzyme which prepares your tissues for their feeding. They feed for typically a few hours before they retreat to digest their meal and continue to their next stage of life. The bumps you see (and FEEL) are actually your body’s own defenses reacting to the bite. There really is no live critter burrowed beneath your skin. Feel better? Good. I’m glad we could have this talk.
Now, the question is how do you avoid them, and how do you deal with the itchy bumps if you are unfortunate enough to be stricken with them.
Avoiding Chigger Bites
Fortunately there are many easy ways to avoid becoming a chigger’s itchy meal (along with about 100 of their closest friends!) Some things to remember:
Chiggers like to hang out in places where the ground is shaded such as tall grass, places where leaves are gathered, etc. So it’s a good idea to keep your lawn maintained. Although chiggers can still be present in a manicured lawn, they really don’t care for shorter grass.
If you must venture out beyond your yard, keep in mind that after a chigger gets onto your skin it crawls to the tightest space it can reach before settling in for a meal. Many times that’s your sock lines or the waistband of your pants. So it’s recommended to keep them off your skin that you wear tight-weave fabrics to keep them from going through the cloth. But clothes should be loose-fitting too.
And be sure to cover as much skin as you can – wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Button up that collar & sleeves. And some even suggest tucking your pants into your boots or socks.
Powdered Sulfur or DEET Sprays
Of course RancherMan & I are not always able to stay in our yard for our work here on the Homestead. The bees must be tended to, as well as the cattle & chickens. Fences must be mended and tractor mowing must be done. There are many times when we must go boldly off the beaten path to work our beloved Homestead.
If I’m only going to the beehives, I’ll simply sprinkle my shoes and pant legs with powdered sulfur. I administer it like the old-timers do, putting the sulfur powder in an old sock and closing by tying a knot on top. I just take that sulfur-filled sock and tap it on my shoes and pant legs and I’m ready to go.
And of course when I know we’ll be out in the taller grass pastures, I’ll spray my boots and pant legs with a deet product such as ‘Off’. To me it’s a helpful product, but I’m not a big fan of chemicals. So I use it only as a last resort.
How To Avoid Chigger-Bite Itching
So, you forgot to take precautions and you’re afraid you’ll suffer the itchy consequences? Well if you act quickly you can oftentimes reduce the volume and severity of those chiggers if you immediately take a hot, soapy shower and scrub your skin vigorously with a washcloth. That should help dislodge the chiggers and wash them away. If they’ve already injected you with their enzymes you may still get some itchy bumps but at least they will be fewer.
And don’t forget there could be lots of tiny almost microscopic chiggers hitching a ride on those jeans you were wearing. Be sure to wash all clothing before wearing it again or you’ll just be introducing them to another all-you-can-eat buffet.
Natural Repellents – Asking The Experts
But let’s say you end up with a hefty serving of itchy red chigger bumps. OH the misery! I’ve wondered about such natural repellents such as various essential oils or crushing a beauty-berry leaf & tucking it into your socks and waistband. I refuse to spray insecticide on our lawn because I want to protect bees and other beneficial insects. I’m really more interested in natural ways to keep chiggers away from my body.
So as I always do when I want to determine fact from fiction I turned to our extension agent (LOVE HER!) about various natural methods. She forwarded my question to an expert with a doctorate, who was actually no help at all. My extension agent’s response was:
Dr <name> replied with the following. I was afraid this would likely be the case. As part of the land grant system we can only use researched based information. Unfortunately the work just hasn’t been done on essential oils and other plants as control products:
Dr. <name> Response: “I have no idea about essential oils, other than I know of no scientific data to support their practical use in repelling or controlling chiggers. If someone wants to be a guinea pig, they could spray one leg with DEET and one leg with essential oil of their choice (there are many); but personally I’d stick with DEET and tucking my pants into my socks.
Same comment about beautyberry as essential oils. No data that I’m aware of.”
So I don’t know if essential oil has been proven to repel chiggers or if it’s been proven it can help with the itching. And using botanicals crushed and tucked into your socks? I have no idea.
Rest assured, my friends. I’ll not be applying insecticide to our yard. Instead we’ll be focusing on keeping the little beasties off our skin. Here are the methods we use here on the Homestead:
- Wear loose clothing comprised of dense fabric long-sleeve shirts & pants.
- Tuck pant legs into boots or even socks.
- Sprinkle powdered sulfur onto shoes & pant legs.
- If going into even taller grass of pasture, spray DEET product such as ‘Off’.
- Stay in short grass whenever possible.
- If exposed to chiggers, put clothing worn into the pastures directly into the laundry hamper.
- Take a hot shower as soon as possible, scrubbing skin vigorously with a washcloth.
If we do end up with chiggers and the itching becomes more than we can bear, an allergy medicine containing an antihistamine can help us get some relief. Although the itching can last weeks, the worst of it lasts only a couple of days so there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!
- Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University – Publication On Chiggers
- My Own Itchy Experience 😉
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