Mattress bug bites vs. mosquito bites: What to know

Chiggers (also called harvest mites or red bugs) are tiny red, biting mites. Their bites aren’t painful, but do cause intense itching.

Chiggers are members of the arachnid family (the same family that includes spiders and ticks). They are smaller than a period at the end of a sentence. Most can only be seen with a magnifying glass.

Chigger bites aren’t contagious, so kids can’t catch them from someone or give them to somebody else. They can still play sports and do all normal activities unless the itching makes them too uncomfortable.

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If chigger bites happen on the penis, they can cause swelling, itching, and painful peeing. This is known as “summer penile syndrome.”

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How Are Chigger Bites Diagnosed?

Mild itchiness and pain are normal reactions to insect bites and stings, but if you experience anything more severe than these, including shortness of breath and swelling away from the original site, you should contact a doctor or seek medical attention immediately. It’s possible you could be having a severe allergic reaction, suffering from an insect-borne disease, or experiencing an infection.

Unlike mosquitoes and ticks, chiggers don’t carry disease. So they are not harmful, only annoying. You can usually treat chigger bites at home:

Chigger Bites

Insect Bite on Skin with Blister. Stock Photo

Chiggers are found all over the outdoors, including in grassy fields, along lakes and streams, and in forests. It’s the baby chiggers that bite people and animals.

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How Do Chigger Bites Happen?

Chigger bites are itchy red bumps that can look like pimples, blisters, or small hives. They are usually found around the waist, ankles, or in warm skin folds. They get bigger and itchier over several days, and often appear in groups.

You may notice that bug bites pick up in the summer, when you’re outside more often and exposing more skin, but they can occur any time of year—especially if you happen to be preyed upon inside of your home. (Spiders, bed bugs, and fleas don’t hibernate in the winter, sadly.) There are ways to deter the critters from coming your way, especially if you use insect repellent or bug spray, but there’s no perfect solution to ward off the pests.

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bug bite with blister

After hatching, baby chiggers wait on plants for people or animals to pass by. When they do, the chigger attaches to them using tiny claws. Once attached, it pierces their skin and injects its saliva (spit). The spit contains digestive juices that dissolve skin cells. The chigger then eats the dissolved cells, which provide the protein it needs to grow into an adult. After a couple of days the chigger falls off, leaving a red bump on the skin.

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What Are the Signs of Chigger Bites?

Chigger bites start to itch within hours of the chigger attaching to the skin. The itch stops after a few days, and the red bumps heal over 1–2 weeks.

Unfortunately, experience shows us that almost all bug bites look strikingly similar. In fact, experts say that it’s hard to positively identify the offending insect unless you actually catch it in the act. Everyone’s immune system reacts to bug bites and stings differently, producing unique symptoms in each victim, from swelling to itching to pain.

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