Got Chiggers? It Figures!

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

with a commercial aerosol containing the pesticide permethrin.

Ridding Your Yard of Chiggers

Can I burn them away?

Over the eons, chiggers have become well-adapted to Missouri's frequent fires. They survive a burn by burrowing into the soil.

Can I kill them with chemicals?

Chiggers represent only a small number of the myriad tiny creatures that inhabit your lawn or yard. The majority of these insects and animals do no harm to us and some of them are beneficial. Broad-based insecticides, such as Sevin (TM), may create a sterile environment if reapplied often. However, any chemical treatment poses some risk to children, pets and other animals, such as deer and birds.

What can I do?

Chiggers need shade and moisture. Close cropped lawns are, at best, a marginal habitat for them. They much prefer brush and long grass or weeds. If you care for your yard diligently, over time you will have fewer and fewer chiggers in your lawn

If you are sensitive to chiggers, apply a permethrin-based aerosol insecticide to clothes that you wear outdoors.

Insect repellent containing DEET also works. If you don't like to put insect repellent on your skin, spray it on your clothes and shoes, instead. Before these chemicals became available, people relied on dusting sulfur, kerosene or oil of citronella to ward off chiggers.

Chiggers don't carry any diseases that affect us. However, bites can itch so much that we face the threat of secondary infection when we scratch them with a dirty fingernail. When the itching becomes intense, we may be tempted to use a rusty wire brush, if one happens to be within reach.

Scratching, however, is a no-no; in addition to increasing the chance of infection, it keeps a bite open and prevents it from healing. In some people, chigger bites may cause a more general, hivelike reaction that may require treatment by a physician.

A chigger bite usually shows up as just a small, pimplelike reddened bump. By the time you are aware of this welt or bump and feel the itching, which tends to intensify for a day or more, it is too late to do much about it. In fact, it's likely you've already scratched off the chigger that bit you.

A rule of thumb is that the poignancy and duration of the itch is directly proportional to the amount of time a chigger remains attached to you. Remove the chigger right away, and you likely will experience minimal discomfort. If, on the other hand, you sleep with chiggers and they have all night to feed before you wake up scratching, you may itch for another two weeks.

As a chigger bite heals, the top of the hardened tube, or stylostome, is usually visible. If you scratch off its dried cap, liquid oozes out.

Most remedies for chigger bites attempt to remedy the intense itching, which seems to get worse before it gets better. Over-the-counter medications often contain antihistamines, such as hydrocortisone. Others contain analgesics and anesthetics.

An important property of any remedy is to seal the wound from air. That's why some home treatments involve applying nail polish or roll-on deodorant. One reader said he used an anti-hemorrhoidal cream; another suggested meat tenderizer. Calamine, Vaseline, cold cream and baby oil also keep air from the site and may be effective.

Much more complicated home remedies have been developed to ease the itch of chigger bites and hurry the healing process. Most of these contain benzocaine, alcohol, salicylic acid, methyl salicylate and water. Purchasing some of these ingredients may require a doctor's prescription.

Time is probably the best healer for chigger bites. Of course you'll pass that time in a miserable state, fussing, gritting your teeth, tossing your bedclothes and moaning feebly to family, friends and inanimate objects.

On the positive side . . .

OK, let's not get silly. We can probably all agree that when it comes to chiggers there is no positive side

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