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The term “mites” refers to microscopic arthropods that feed on plants, insects, animals, and even humans. People may not realize they have come in contact with mites until they develop itchy, red bumps that resemble bites.
Mites range from 0.5–2.0 millimeters (mm) in length, making them virtually invisible to the naked eye.
Continue reading to learn how to identify and treat mite bites. We also discuss possible alternative bites.
Some mites do bite animals and humans. Examples of mites that bite humans include:
Chiggers are the larva of the Trombiculid mite family.
While adult chiggers feed on decaying material in soil, their larvae feed on the skin cells of living hosts. When a chigger attaches to a person’s skin, it secretes digestive enzymes that soften the epidermis, causing skin rashes.
Chigger bites create clusters of small red bumps on the skin accompanied by intense itching that can last for several days to 2 weeks.
A person can treat chigger bites using:
- oral antihistamines
- topical corticosteroid cream
- cold compresses
Demodex mites feed on dead skin cells and oil inside hair follicles. There are two demodex mites: Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis.
D. brevis mites tend to feed on gland cells in the hair follicles and tend to be in the chest and neck area.
D. folliculorum mites commonly inhabit the face, including:
- the cheeks
- the nose
- the chin
- the temples
- the eyelashes
- the eyebrows
- the ears
- the skin folds that extend from the nose to the corners of the mouth
While a few D. folliculorum mites can live on humans completely unnoticed, an infestation can lead to undesirable symptoms, including:
- patches of red, inflamed, or dry skin on the face
- inflamed, crusty, or watery eyelids
- itchy skin
- acne-like blemishes
A person can use topical insecticides, such as crotamiton or permethrin cream to treat Demodex bites.
To prevent the bites from worsening, a person should:
- clean the face twice daily
- avoid oil-based cleansers
Oak mites typically feed on midge fly larvae, but they can bite people if they remain on the skin.
The oak leaf gall mite has caused a series of human outbreaks in Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas over the years, and causes yearly outbreaks in Kansas.
Oak mite bites look similar to chigger bites.
People may develop itchy red welts on their face, neck, arms, or upper body.
A person can treat oak mite bites by using:
- calamine lotion
- oral antihistamines
- over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone product
The S. scabiei mite burrows into the upper layer of the skin, where it reproduces and lays eggs.
Scabies is contagious. According to the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), S. scabiei mites typically pass between people through direct skin contact and, less commonly, through exposure to infested clothing or bedding.
A scabies infestation can lead to an itchy, red skin rash accompanied by intense itching. The rash may contain tiny bumps, hives, or welts under the skin.
Scratching the affected skin can lead to open sores and increase a person’s risk of infection.
Doctors can treat scabies with oral medications and topical ointments that kill S. scabiei mites and their larvae.
Doctors may also prescribe antihistamines to reduce itching and antibiotics for infections.
Mites are so small that people are unable to see or feel the bites until after a mite has bitten them.
Unlike other insect bites or stings that form a single lump on the skin with a noticeable puncture site, mite bites induce skin rashes on the legs, arms, and trunk.
General signs to look for include:
- small, hard bumps on the skin
- red patches of skin
- irritation, itching, or swelling near the bites
According to the Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, dust mites commonly inhabit house dust.
They feed on dead skin and dander that falls off of humans and pets. Dust mites live in house dust, mattresses, furniture, and carpets. These tiny creatures do not bite or live on humans.
Instead, proteins in the exoskeletons and feces of dust mites can induce allergic reactions in people.
Exposure to mites can lead to patches of small, red bumps on the skin accompanied by the following respiratory symptoms:
- nasal congestion and sneezing
- itchy, red, or watery eyes
- itchy nose, mouth, or throat
- a cough
- chest tightness
- difficulty breathing
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) warn that dust mites can worsen a person’s asthma.
Treatment for dust mite allergies include:
- over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines
- oral or liquid decongestants
- nasal sprays containing corticosteroids or cromolyn sodium
Immunotherapy is an effective treatment for dust mite allergy, according to the AAFA. Immunotherapy involves exposing a person to progressively larger doses of an allergen.
People cannot eliminate dust mites from their homes entirely, but the following tips can help reduce the effects of dust mites:
- frequently vacuuming, mopping, and dusting
- washing sheets, pillowcases, clothing, and any other household fabrics in hot water (130-140°F)
- wiping dust with a damp cloth
- using a dehumidifier or air conditioner to reduce humidity levels in the house
- removing carpets and curtains
- covering mattress, pillows, and cushions with hypoallergenic or dust-proof covers
The following precautions can help prevent mite bites outdoors:
- applying insect repellants, such as DEET or Picaridin
- wearing long boots, long trousers, and long-sleeve shirts when walking through tall grass or dense vegetation
- taking a hot shower or bath and washing clothes in hot water immediately after leaving an infested area
People should see a doctor if they believe they have scabies bites because S. scabiei mites can easily transfer from one person to another.
Bites from chiggers and oak mites rarely require medical attention. People can treat their symptoms with OTC antihistamines and decongestants.
Try not to scratch mite bites, as this can lead to an infection. Anti-itch cream and topical corticosteroids may help reduce itching and swelling.
People should contact a doctor if they experience signs of an infection, including:
House or dust mites that live in dust do not bite, but they can induce allergic reactions.
Chiggers are mite larvae that feed on skin cells and leave clusters of small, red bites on the legs and feet.
Most mites do not bite humans, but they may bite if they remain on a person’s skin.
In general, mite bites cause mild skin irritation and itching and do not require medical attention. People can treat mite bites with OTC and prescription antihistamines, topical corticosteroids, and allergy injections.
People who believe they have scabies should seek immediate medical attention. The mites responsible for this skin condition can live under the skin for several months.
Scabies infestations are highly contagious, so people must seek treatment as soon as possible to prevent further transmission.