Ouch: Little Red Bugs Are A Big Pain In The Pants

Published on Saturday, 28 June 2014 21:18 - Written by Steve Knight Outdoor Writer

How can anything so small make you miserable?

This is the year for flies and chiggers, and while flies may be an annoyance it is the chiggers that cause the most grief.

Trust me. I got into them big time last Saturday. The itching started slowly Sunday mostly around the waste. By Monday it was up and down my legs, and it would not stop. By Wednesday my legs looked pathetic, but at least I no longer had an itch to scratch. At least not many.

Chiggers, or red bugs as the old-school East Texans call them, are an annual pest in much of Texas. Throw in a year of high humidity and moisture like we have had this year and the problem goes from bad to worse.

For those new to the Pineywoods or just venturing outdoors for the first time, you don’t need to be on the lookout for chiggers. They are so small, only about one-sixtieth of an inch in size, it would take a magnifying glass to see one.

Don’t worry though, they will find you.

Chiggers look something like a miniscule tick, and like a tick they are an arachnid. Unlike ticks they don’t burrow into the skin and attach themselves. Instead they cut the skin with something in their mouth that looks like Jaws of Life and inject an enzyme that causes skins cells to disintegrate so that it becomes food.

It is worse than it sounds because they are transmitting any parasites, but the pain they cause is a thousand times more than their size.

In as little as three hours the itching begins. And in the most embarrassing places.

The little suckers really don’t like humans because we aren’t as tasty as a dog or mouse, but they don’t mind hitching a ride on us. As we walk they walk too, up and down legs and arms until their travel is restricted by something tight like underwear legs and waistbands or sock tops. That is where they dig in.

The experts say chiggers jump ship in a day or two. It is the skin’s turning red and swelling that makes it look like they are still there. The itch lasts longer.

This is a banner year for chiggers. After a few years of drought it has been easy to forget them. This year, though, the grass is growing again and chiggers live under tall grass and brush.

Since getting attacked, I have been given what seems like a dozen home remedies using every chemical known to man. Some of them fall under the old axiom of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Turpentine and bleach are two of the recommendations I have passed on so far. They might work. I just don’t want to be the test crash dummy.

I have heard to use heat, such as hot water or even a blow drier. I have not to use heat, and then I heard to use heat only just after getting bit.

I started off with the tough-it-out technique of treatment, but by Tuesday I switched to an antihistamine cream. There are dozens of options including oral antihistamines and hydrocortisone creams. There are also the old reliable creams like camphor and menthol or calamine lotion, which I remember using as a kid. Once it dried on your skin it was hard as a rock.

Did it work? Sort of, but not really. If I could have been repeatedly dipped in a vat of the stuff it might have had a better chance.

The best plan is to avoid getting bit in the first place. That can be done while still going outside. At home reduce chigger habitat by keeping yards mowed and spraying an insecticide if necessary.

If you are going out someplace where you are likely to be in the bugs, which is anywhere, there are a number of things you can do. As a kid we had chigger bags filled with sulphur we would slap on to keep the chiggers off. A better option today is to spray your clothes in advance with a permethrin and your skin with a bug repellent containing DEET, or just use the bug repellent on everything.

Also wear loose fitting, tightly woven clothes including long-sleeve shirts and tuck your pants in your boots. Immediately after hiking around, take a warm, soapy shower.

Unfortunately, a few days later you are still going to itch and feel miserable, but hey, isn’t summer fun.


Have a comment or opinion on this? Email Steve Knight at outdoor@tylerpaper.com, follow him on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.