Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Bane of Chiggers: Four Natural Remedies for One Awful Itch

Earlier this week, I had the great pleasure of being eaten alive by several dozen chiggers while hanging out in my friend's back yard. While I've had many bug bites before, I've never in my life suffered with so many bites at once. To be completely honest, I underestimated just how debilitating pests could be, and I can't imagine trying to endure them during a survival scenario. It seemed like everything in my life ground to a halt, and all of my focus and energy went towards trying to relieve the itch. Much like being sick or hungry, it impairs every task you attempt to do. And when all you want to do sleep and heal, that demonic itch won't yield.
With many more waking hours suddenly available to me, I spent a lot of time researching any folk remedy I could find. I discovered that reading into chigger cures, is in fact a view through a window of human desperation. People will do anything to cure chigger bites, and these caustic remedies are often perpetuated alongside several myths about chiggers. While I'm sure many of these cures work on some level, they often involve some pretty nasty chemicals. Applying nail polish remover appears to be the most popular. Adding a couple cups of bleach to a bath is a strong second place (which I discovered on a forum for pregnant women. Yikes). Others include applying gasoline, alcohol, kerosene, Listerine, deodorant, or ammonia to the bites
See what I mean? People will do anything to stop the itch short of selling their souls, and after experiencing so many chigger bites, I don't look down on them. However, I was determined to treat these bites as naturally as I could, or at least relieve the itch to some degree. Below is a review of several common bug bite remedies I attempted. They all have their pros and cons, with the exception of the last, which I will probably use exclusively for as long as I live.
Baking Soda
It seems like there is no end to the usefulness of baking soda, and it worked pretty well on chigger bites. Simply mix the baking soda with water to make a paste and apply it to the bite. I experienced quite a bit of relief with this, but unfortunately it was only temporary. The itch relief seems to wane once the paste dries, and once that happens it's nearly impossible to keep it on your skin. Just walking across the room is enough for the dried paste to fall away from your bites. I even tried putting band-aids over the paste to keep it in place, but to no avail. This should be used as a temporary fix until you find something better.
Honey turned out to be one of the more effective treatments. I experienced very fast relief by applying honey to band-aids and laying them down on the bites. I found the best way was to use a toothpick to spread the honey on the cotton pad of the band-aid. You don't want too much or the honey will leak out all over your skin and clothes. I think this treatment would work best for relieving the itch during sleep, since you would be moving your limbs very little. Since most of my chigger bites were around my knees and ankles, pretty much any walking or kneeling motion would peel the band-aids away.
As you could have guessed by now, I used and removed a ton of band-aids while experimenting with these cures. If you have dozens of bites, I would suggest either buying your band-aids at a dollar store, or making your own (Personally I like folding a small strip of toilet paper into a square, and sticking it to electrical tape. Duct tape is pretty popular for this as well, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you're clean shaven).
This might have been my preferred method if it weren't for the smell. If you have a handful of bites it's definitely worth a try, but I can't imagine applying this to dozens of bites, and having that strong garlic smell all over my clothes and bed sheets. This one involves getting a fresh clove of garlic, and slicing or mashing it up. You can then apply the juices to the bite and let it set. Like my previous cures, I actually put the flesh of the garlic on the bite, and used a band-aid to hold it in place. A word of warning though, don't use garlic on a bite that you've scratched to the point of bleeding. I've heard anecdotal accounts of this causing blistering to the skin (though I have heard of garlic being used on other open wounds before without a problem, so I don't know what to make of these stories. If your bites are bleeding, use at your own risk).
Tea Tree Recipe
This was the final treatment I used, and by far the most effective. It actually involves a mix of several ingredients, so if you suffer from chigger bites on a frequent basis, you should memorize this or write it down. I'm thinking tattooing it to the back of my hand. This was the only treatment I used that didn't just stop the itch, but set my bites on the road to recovery. The recipe is as follows:
Mix ½ teaspoon of dish soap with a quarter cup of pineapple juice.
Add in ½ teaspoon of tea tree oil and stir them all together for at least a minute.
Add in ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and thoroughly stir it for several more minutes.
And that's it. Use a q-tip or a cotton ball to spread it onto your chigger bites. You'll probably experience a slight burning sensation, similar to using Icy-Hot. This will subside once the mixture dries on your skin (it should go without saying, keep this stuff out of your eyes and nose). Using this method pretty much wiped out the itch, and the relief lasted long after the solution dried.
I'll admit that with the addition of commercial dish soap, this one isn't entirely natural, but I suspect that it isn't necessary for the treatment. The dish soap appears to act as a kind of emulsifier, binding all of the ingredients together. It's really just a time saving ingredient.
There are enzymes in the pineapple juice and tea tree oil that cancel out the enzymes used by chiggers to break down your skin, and help reduce the inflammation of the bite. The capsaicin in the cayenne peppers works as a pain reliever. I'm assuming that without the dish soap these ingredients wouldn't mix very well, and you might have to apply them one at a time. Hopefully somebody will find a cheap natural emulsifier for this in the future. The tea tree oil is the most important ingredient, and should work almost as well by itself.
The earlier you use this treatment the more effective it should be. I didn't use it until about two days after I was bitten. It still worked, but there's a residual itch left over that's mildly annoying. It feels like light a tickle that won't go away. I would say this treatment reduced my itch by about 90 percent. If only it was the first thing I used, I doubt there would be any itch left at all.
Which leads me to a final note. TELL EVERYONE about this treatment. The internet is filled with toxic cures involving nail polish remover and gasoline, and it took way too much digging to find this natural and awesome treatment. Tea tree oil is not as popular as it deserves, and something this useful should be one of the first cures to show up in a internet search, not a bleach bath.
If you have any thoughts, ideas, or even some cures of your own, please share it with us in the comments.

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