Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chiggers: Why They Suck & How to Get Rid of Them... Kinda

Where I go to college, I'm pretty much surrounded by wilderness. I'm right out in the Pine Barrens where there's, besides the campus, nothing but trees, foliage and dirt. Hell, even some of the campus is pretty much just trees, foliage and dirt. In addition to that, we've got a giant lake which lends a marshland to the otherwise already wild woods. That makes it mosquito country, and that makes it bad for me.

Back at home, all I got were mosquito bites. If I so much as lifted my arm and my sleeve fell too far past the cuff, my wrist turned into a biscuit tray (i.e. really bumpy and perfect for baking). I'm the only one in my family who really has this problem, and none of us are entirely sure why. I've read that mosquitoes like warmer things, and the color black, both of which I tend to fit perfectly with (I wear a lot of black and my body is always warm). I dunno about blood types, but maybe that has something to do with it too. Anyway, that's pretty much the extent of what I'd have to deal with though. Nothing too bad elsewhere, besides occasionally finding a tick searching my body.

Last year, however, I couldn't help but see the vast wildlife around me and think "well shit, this would be great for an adventure!" I'd stock my pockets with my tool knives and head out into the woods just to see what cool crap I could find. These efforts didn't go unrewarded: I've found my fair share of cool fruits from trees I never knew about (mostly ornamentals), and I came across some moss-covered bridges, marshes, and even some weird picnic-like area where someone had carved out turtle shells. Sorry, but I think that's pretty cool, and totally worth contending with mosquitoes and ticks.

Well, little did I know that was the worst of my problems.

I was plagued with the most rotten devils in the world: chiggers. They're these tiny little parasites that you can barely see, and will only find if you actually check for them, usually around your ankles. They like to go into tight spots, so your ankles are definitely at risk, as are your privates. No I'm not kidding.

Usually you get them by walking through brush, and a clump of them smacks onto you, and they start searching your body for a good place to start biting you. They can wander for as long as 3 hours without biting, but when they bite, it's horrible. My record number of bites at any given time is 27. Yes, 27 bites, exclusively on my ankles (and 5 or less on my legs). The first time I got bitten, though, it was only 21 (yeah, only). These bites never typically got to anything bad like an infection, but they itch. They itch bad. You've never really experienced an itch until you've had multiple chigger bites, and are as vulnerable to their little secreted fluids as I am.

But when I first got them, I thought it shouldn't be a problem. Whenever I got a bad mosquito bite, I just got some After Bite and soaked it up. I tried the same thing on my chigger bites, but it didn't work. I'll tell you, the first time I dealt with these fuckers, I tried everything. Ice, heat, Cortizone, After Bite, nail polish, and a few other things including but not limited to scraping the blistered heads off my bites and burning them with alcohol. Yeah, it got that serious for me. I was desperate, and for a while I had convinced myself that worked, but the itching never ceased. The first time this happened, it lasted for two weeks, and I had no idea whether anything I was doing had caused the itching, burning and pain to go away. I was just glad they were gone and I was done with sleepless nights of torturous itching on my feet.

Then I got them again this year.

I was more prepared this year, though. I knew that once I noticed chiggers on my skin, I should take my clothes off and wash them in soap and hot water. That's fine and dandy, but what about the ones on my skin? My girlfriend and I have gotten used to just plucking them off our skin, and whenever I go into the woods I spray myself with bug repellent for good measure, but this time it didn't work. My preventative measures didn't work, and I got my record number of bites only a week and a half ago, or so. The semester just started and I've already been eaten alive. So, what did I do? I refined some of my choices and tried something new, since none of my medications were working (I tried After Bite again, along with Chiggerid). I went into the shower, broke all of the bites open thoroughly, and then scrubbed them down with hot water and soap.

Now, I'm not going to lie to you, this hurts like a bitch, but after 5 minutes of intense burning, it can actually provide you with a few hours of relief if you leave the afflicted areas alone. This is where I started to discover bad things you can do to your bites that make them itch/burn worse:

1: Walking. Sorry, but if you can, you should stay off your feet for a few days.
2: Wearing socks. The fabric of your socks will irritate the bites.
3: Scratching. Do not scratch. The autonomous itching has stopped right now, but if I ever get tempted to scratch the area around the scabs of my ex-bites, the itching sensation comes back instantly, and as bad as before.

After a few days, I was at a loss. I have to walk to classes, and one of my classes this semester warrants me to continuously go to locations where chiggers are likely to screw me over. I continued to ask around for advice on how to handle this horror. I had no luck, but I did find out a few things about chiggers that you should know.

First, the nail polish trick, while it can relieve itching, is stupid. The premise is that chiggers dig into your skin and then leave a hole to breathe, but that they stay there until they decide to leave; so if you cover the bite with nail polish, they suffocate and die. It's not true. They don't burrow, they just bite. If they did burrow, however, why the hell would you want to keep them in your skin? Do you want your skin to look like the inside of a dragon fruit, laden with black dots? Do you want the source of the irritation, something you could be highly allergic to, to just stay in your skin? The whole idea is just ridiculous.

Second, chiggers (and similar mites) have this unique characteristic that they like to bite the same person even if another person is available. In this case, I sleep in the same bed as my girlfriend; yet despite being infested by chiggers myself, my girlfriend never got any from me. The chiggers, after biting someone, just like to stick to them. Why? Because they love you, that's why! Ain't it great?

Anyway, speaking of my girlfriend, that's how I eventually ended up overcoming my bites. My girlfriend brought me Benadryl anti-itch cream, and it worked miracles for me. Really, this is the only thing that's actually confidently worked. After Bite doesn't do anything. Chiggerid just leaves a flaky, sometimes painful (because it sticks to your hair) coating on your skin. The other methods are just generally ineffective. For anyone else who has had chiggers, you're welcome to disagree and explain why, but here's what I recommend for people who suffer from these bites:

1: Immediately take off all your clothes and wash them in hot water and soap.
2: Try to find as many of the chiggers on your body as you can and pluck them off, putting them in a pot of boiling water to make sure they die (or just scrape them to death).
3: Try to endure the pain of breaking your bites open in the shower, then scrub them maybe two or three times with soap and hot water, thoroughly.
4: Dry the areas, then apply Benadryl anti-itch cream.
5: Avoid irritating the afflicted areas further.

If you can medicate the bites before they get bad, you can usually prevent this disaster; however if you're not fast enough like me, this seems to work. Again, it takes a while for you to fully recover, but hopefully this'll speed up the process. If it doesn't, or even makes things worse, I'm sorry. (But I'm not accountable).

As far as preventative measures go, I'd advise the following:

1: Find a good bug repellent and spray yourself before you go around any areas with tall grass/bushes, or is humid, damp or swampy. I use Off!.
2: Wear long pants and sleeves, with preferably tall socks to further protect your ankles.
3: Try to only spend around an hour (maybe two) in the areas where chiggers are more likely to get you, just to make sure they don't bite you before you can check yourself safely.
4: When you get home, make sure you change clothes and check yourself, and wash whatever clothes you were wearing.

But most importantly:

Don't let this deter you from exploring out in the wilderness. Wildlife is incredible, and a few mites shouldn't hinder your ability to enjoy that. Just be aware of some of the risks you're taking, take the proper precautions, and be sure that if you encounter a situation such as this, you're prepared to deal with it.

Thank you all for reading, and I'll see you all next time!


  1. Aw, I'm glad something positive came of your experience. Hopefully your advice will help a few other people avoid your double-whammy.

    1. Yeah so do I. When the itching is at its worst I just think "why the hell did this happen to me? Why? Please make it stop, what did I do to deserve it?" I'm a big baby, I know, but maybe this post is the answer to that question.



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