The Mites of Misery

Hi, all!

Have you ever had that feeling of total helplessness? That nothing you can do can make things better? Well, I’m usually not one to ever feel this way. Heck, usually if I sense a problem or something I am not happy with, I go straight to analyzing all I can do to fix it.

Well, today’s post is about a little something that I have felt absolutely helpless to. One word. One cool sounding word that packs along so much misery.

Chiggers.

Ever heard of them? I hadn’t either until trying to figure out what the heck was all over my feet and ankles, and itched like nothing I’ve ever felt before.

Because of my unfamiliarity, and discovering the itch in the middle of the night, I assumed I had gotten mosquito bites while outdoors for the Fourth or hiking the day before. The next morning I examined the bites and realized they were all in clusters, were smaller than normal mosquito bites and itched a whole lot more.

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My second thought was bed bugs. Now I’ve had two bed bug scares before and, because of this, am pretty educated on the little critters and the process of getting rid of them. So I went through the protocol — took apart my bed, threw sheets, mattress cover and duvet cover in the wash, and vigorously searched, clorox wiped and vacuumed the area surrounding my bed. Every little nook and cranny was investigated, but I could find nothing.

In times like these, you realize how much you take for granted comfort and peace of mind. I didn’t even want to be in my own room, let alone sit or lay on my bed. I had planned on sleeping elsewhere that night. Until I got a text from a friend.

My friend Lauren (fellow veganista!) who I had hiked the Billy Goat Trail with, on the Maryland side of Great Falls Park, just a couple days before had texted me asking if I had bites on my feet. As much as I wasn’t thrilled about the remaining insanely itchy, red bumps all over me,  I was SO relieved to know she was experiencing the same bumps in the same place. YAY, this meant my bed probably had nothing to do with these bites and I would be safe to sleep soundly. Or so I thought.

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Lauren suggested that we had gotten bitten by chiggers. She had gotten bitten once before while out working in dense vegetation (bio major) a few years back. I started doing my research on the handy-dandy Internet and realized that what I had all over my ankles and feet were most definitely chiggers. I was once again relieved to have a diagnosis, but what I was about to find out about these critters would most definitely not sit well with me.

Here goes:

Chiggers are the juvenile form (larvae) of a certain type of mite, which are a part of the arachnid family, along with spiders and ticks. Chiggers are found through out the globe, but are most common in highly vegetated, grassy fields, gardens, parks and moist areas around lakes or rivers. Well there I had it — my hike at Great Falls was my demise. Note to self: never hike again!

But there’s more — Chiggers are bright red, but not visible to the naked eye, as they are about 1/50th of an inch. In the larvae stage only, chiggers are parasitic to animals or humans (if they come in contact with a plant). They are only prevalent in areas with high humidity in temperatures ranging from 60-90 degrees F.

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Chiggers are most attracted to moist areas of the body, so bites are typically found at sock line, behind knees, groin or armpits. Despite common myth, chiggers do not actually burrow into your skin to feed, but inject a feeding structure into the skin and enzymes to break down host skin tissue. This then hardens the surrounding area and results in a feeding tube called a stylostome. The crazy part is you don’t typically react until the chiggers are done feeding and fall off, as their anesthetic then wears off (I didn’t notice mine until 3 days after hiking!).

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Your body’s reaction to the LOVELY stylostome is what causes the irritation and the unbearable itching. And trust me, I’ve had my fair share of mosquito bites as  a literal mosquito magnet anytime I’m outside. After this experience, I would take 1000 mosquito bites. Chiggers bites are seriously 100 times itchier. The worst part? You have the fun little guys for not a couple  days, but a couple weeks!

In a continued attempt to gather as much information as I could, I was reading medical sites, testimonials, you name it. I can’t tell you the amount of testimonials that made me want to run for the hills. One was a guy who was in so much discomfort from the chiggers he considered cutting off the skin with a knife, but instead burned himself multiple times with a cigarette. Another lady covered her legs in toxic cleaning chemicals to feel a burning sensation, masking the itch. These chiggers mess with your mind. I too have felt like doing crazy things.

So how have you dealt with the itching, you ask? Any and every way I have read about. Seriously. Thus far, I’ve tried Benadryl anti-itch cream, hydrocortisone cream, Benadryl anti-itch gel, solarcaine, baking soda/water mixture, Vick’s vapor rub/salt mixture and lastly, but most successful, ice cold water and Chigger-ex.

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First night: Vicks/salt mixture wrapped with towels — was a no-go = no sleep

Everything had taken off the edge for 20-30 minutes or so, but then the itch would be right back. After all these trials and errors, I read that there was a specific ointment for Chigger bites, so I figured I had to give it a shot. This ointment is super thick and creamy, infused with chamomile and aloe vera, giving it a very calming, spa-like scent.

Useful: I now have a routine for the most chiggers bearability (word?). Anytime I’m feeling itchy, I soak my feet in ice cold water for 5-10 minutes until I hit numbness, let them air dry, cover the bites with Chigger-ex and cover my feet with high socks. It seems that once my feet return from numbness, the compression from the socks, and most definitely the Chigger-ex, reduces the itch.

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It has been absolutely insane the amount that these bites have affected by daily life. Just little things you wouldn’t think about, like wearing sneakers to workout or sandals to run an errand OR SLEEPING, is unbearable. When I’m driving in the car, I have to blast the AC on my feet or I’ll have an itch attack. My first night with chiggers, I got maybe one hour of sleep. The second night I learned my lesson and took a sleeping aid.

It’s crazy to think I had no idea what a chigger was just a few days ago when now they seem to dictate my life.

I suppose this is just one of those things — one of those things that make you stronger and wiser in the long run. I will tell you one thing, I will definitely never be wearing shorts again on a spring/summer hike, and probably won’t be going hiking for a while.

I hope you learned a little something from this post today, although not my traditional food/exercise related post. I most definitely would never wish chiggers on anyone, so be sure to inform all your friends and fam!

Tips to avoid getting chiggered yourself: (save yourself from the misery!)

  • When in humid, moist climates with tall vegetation, or near bodies of water, wear bug repellent, pants, and long socks that are tucked in.
  • In the case that you brush by plants, wipe off that body part immediately, as chigger larvae are actually relatively easy to brush off before they have formed their stylostome.
  • As soon as you return home from outdoor activity, hop in the shower and wash yourself with warm, soapy water to clear off anything you might have picked up.

Well, I should get back to scratching now. My bites are being needy again. JK. Obvi that makes them so much worse and leads me to a downward spiral of scratch-fest. If anything, this has been a great self-discipline practice. Optimism at its finest, eh?

Chow for now!

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