Scabies is a very uncomfortable, contagious skin condition commonly seen in children, young adults, and the elderly. It can spread quickly among people in crowded conditions that allow direct contact with each other, such as in child care centers, nursing homes, classrooms, and prisons.
Scabies is a parasitic infestation caused by a mite known as Sarcoptes scabiei. Scabies mites are barely visible to the naked eye. Each mite is less than half a millimeter long, and the mites may look like tiny black dots on the skin. Mites can survive for several months, living, feeding, and reproducing on the outer layers of human skin cells.
These microscopic parasites burrow into the epidermis and lay eggs inside the skin. This breach in the protective layer of the skin triggers the immune system and initiates the release of a chemical called histamine to combat the invading mites. This chemical, in turn, brings about intense itching at the affected sites and subsequent development of a red rash.
What Does Scabies Look Like?
Because the mites responsible for scabies prefer warm environments, they tend to thrive in the folds of the skin where the underside of each arm meets the shoulder, in the umbilicus, in the genital area, around the creases of breasts and buttocks, under the fingernails, and on the webs between the fingers.
Scabies may also involve other parts of the body such as the knees, around the waist, the shoulder blades, and the backs of the elbows. These mites also take refuge in areas of the skin that are usually covered by jewelry such as the wrist and fingers. In children, scabies mites usually burrow into the skin of the head, palms, soles, face, and neck.
This kind of mite infestation is characterized by the development of an angry skin rash composed of small red bumps and blisters that seem to be lined together, called burrows, and may even contain blood crusts.
On occasions, you can even notice the irregular burrow tracks created by female mites that tunnel under the surface of the skin to lay eggs. These tracks are usually skin colored or red and appear as raised bumps creating lines on the skin, particularly on the hands and feet.
How Do You Catch It?
- Scabies is a highly contagious skin condition that is most commonly transmitted from one person to the next through direct skin-to-skin contact, such as holding hands, hugging, and sleeping together.
- The mites can also spread through sexual contact with an infested person.
- Because the mites can survive without a host for as long as 3–4 days, it is possible to pick up these parasites from infested clothing, bedding, or towels.
- Scabies mites can even stick around on furniture or carpets for some time.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Scabies?
- The hallmark symptom of a scabies infestation is a persistent itching that gets particularly aggravated at night. The severity of this itch is generally so intense that it can give you sleepless nights.
- The physical manifestation of this condition is in the form of a rash that consists of a linear collection of tiny bumps. These minuscule red bumps bear a resemblance to tiny bites, hives, knots under the skin, or pimples.
- In some cases, people with scabies develop eczema-like patches on the skin, which have a scaly look and texture.
- The relentless need to scratch the itch can severely irritate the skin, so much so that sores might develop on the affected site. This can further complicate matters as the sores are likely to get secondarily infected by bacteria.
- The itching associated with scabies is particularly severe in children and the elderly.
Norwegian Scabies: In people with a compromised immune system, such as those undergoing chemotherapy, transplant patients, people using steroids and certain medications, and patients with HIV/AIDS, the infestation often escalates to a more serious degree and is referred to as crusted or Norwegian scabies.
Given the subpar immunity of the infested person, the infesting mites multiply far more easily and more quickly than in the case of regular scabies. People with this form of the infestation tend to develop a thickly crusted rash that harbors thousands of mites and eggs. The rash may appear gray and crumble easily on touching.
How Long Does it Take After Infestation for Symptoms to Appear?
People who have never had scabies before may take anywhere between 4 and 6 weeks to exhibit symptoms after initial exposure to the mites. This is known as the incubation period, which is relatively much shorter for people who have previously suffered this condition.
If you have had scabies before, your symptoms will begin to show in a matter of 1–4 days. Regardless of the incubation period, individuals are capable of spreading the mites to others from the time they get infested, even if they do not have symptoms yet.
How Do You Prevent Scabies?
The risk of scabies recurrence doesn’t go away even when you have started treatment. The mites often get transferred from the skin of an infested person to his personal belongings.
To avoid contracting this disease from contaminated sheets, pillowcases, face cloths, clothing, and towels, it is essential to thoroughly wash all such items within 3 days before beginning treatment.
The ideal way to decontaminate the items used by an infested person is to wash them with hot, soapy water and subsequently dry them in a hot dryer. Alternatively, you can get such belongings dry cleaned.
- The same decontamination rule applies to your surrounding upholstery and carpeting. Vacuum all the furniture and rugs in the household to prevent reinfestation.
- Given that the mites can spread quite readily to anyone who has had direct skin-to-skin contact with the infested person, treatment is just as necessary for the household members and sexual contacts of a person with scabies. Everyone should be treated at the same time to minimize the risk of reinfestation.
- In the interest of safeguarding others from contracting this disease, anyone suffering from scabies is advised to avoid crowded settings and stay off school or work until the infestation has cleared.
How is Scabies Treated?
It is important to treat scabies as it will not heal on its own. Without timely treatment, your skin condition can worsen as the constant scratching may lead to eczema or other kinds of skin disease.
There are over-the-counter medications that can treat some of the symptoms of scabies.
The simplest way to soothe scabies itching and other symptoms is to soak the affected area in cool water for 10 minutes, pat the skin dry with a clean towel, and then apply some calamine lotion, which you can buy without a prescription.
Alternatively, you can place a washcloth soaked in cool water on their irritated skin and then apply some calamine lotion. Do this several times a day.
- The minute you suspect any signs of a scabies infestation, see your doctor to get a more definitive diagnosis. A lot of people shy away from discussing such infestation under the false assumption that it reflects poorly on their hygiene. The fact remains that anyone, even the most sanitary and well-groomed person, can pick up these mites. So, there’s no point delaying treatment due to a misguided sense of embarrassment. Instead, get prompt medical help to treat your condition and prevent it from spreading to others.
- There are some trusted creams or lotions to treat scabies that are readily available at most pharmacies.
- It is equally important that people living at close quarters with the diseased individual and those with whom he/she has had prolonged skin-to-skin contact during the infestation phase also get treatment. This rule applies whether or not they exhibit the standard symptoms of scabies.
- The treatment usually takes up to 4 weeks before the itching subsides.
- If you still have the rash despite preliminary treatment, you’ll need to see your doctor.
- The go-to drug generally prescribed by doctors for killing scabies mites and eggs is permethrin, which is considered safe for children aged 2 months or older. This synthetic pyrethroid works along the same lines as the naturally occurring pyrethrins, which are extracts from the chrysanthemum flower. It is important to adhere to the doctor-stipulated dose and application of permethrin in order to ensure its safety and efficacy. The recommended treatment for crusted scabies usually entails applying this drug topically every 2–3 days for 1–2 weeks.
Here are some natural and effective home remedies for scabies.
1. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil contains a compound called terpinen-4-ol that helps kill the parasite that causes scabies. Also, the anti-inflammatory, disinfectant, antiseptic, antiparasitic, antibacterial, antifungal, and wound-healing qualities of tea tree oil help treat scabies.
- Dilute pure tea tree oil in a carrier oil such as jojoba oil or coconut oil. Add 3 to 5 drops of pure tea tree oil in ½ ounce to 1 ounce of carrier oil. Apply this from head to toe twice a day for 7 days. Stop the application if irritation occurs.
- Alternatively, add 10 to 12 drops of pure tea tree oil to a bathtub of lukewarm water. Take a bath in this water twice daily for a few weeks.
2. Neem Oil
Neem oil is a botanical pesticide used to treat many skin problems including scabies. It contains antibacterial and antifungal properties that help eliminate bacteria and fungus trapped in the skin. The smell of neem oil prevents scabies from reproducing, which can greatly shorten the duration of the problem.
- Add ½ ounce of pure organic neem oil to 8 ounces of organic jojoba oil. Apply the oil mixture on the affected areas of skin once or twice daily.
- Make an antiseptic cream by combining 2 ounces of neem oil with an equal amount of freshly ground turmeric powder. Apply the cream on the affected area two or three times a day. This homemade cream helps soothe itching and speeds up the healing process.
3. Neem Leaves
An animal study was conducted in order to highlight the efficacy of neem as a credible healing agent for scabies. A total of 814 subjects were administered a remedial paste made of neem and turmeric for the treatment of this skin condition. An overwhelming majority (97 percent) of cases were reportedly cured within 3 to 15 days of treatment.
- Make a paste out of a handful of fresh neem leaves by crushing them using a pestle and mortar. Wash the affected area thoroughly and then apply the neem paste. Let it dry naturally and then take a bath to wash it off. Do this daily to speed up the healing process.
- Boil some neem leaves in 1 cup of water. Let it cool to room temperature. Drink 1 tablespoon of the liquid three or four times a day. Repeat this for a week or two to make sure the mites and scabies are gone completely.
4. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper will burn and kill the mites, thereby relieving the problem of scabies.
- Mix 1 cup of cayenne pepper in hot bath water.
- Soak in the bath water until the water gets cold. Be sure not to get the water in your eyes as the pepper will cause a burning sensation.
- Rinse off the cayenne pepper with cool water.
Repeat once daily until the scabies is treated.
5. Aloe Vera
- Apply fresh aloe vera gel on the affected skin. Leave it on for half an hour and then rinse it off with lukewarm water. Repeat this two or three times daily for a few weeks until you notice an improvement.
- Grind a handful of calendula petals along with a pinch of turmeric powder. Add 2 tablespoons of aloe vera gel and mix the ingredients well. Apply the paste on the affected skin and let it dry on its own. Do this twice daily for a few weeks for complete recovery.
6. Clove Oil
Clove oil has analgesic, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be used to dry out scabies blisters and rashes.
- Combine 10 drops of clove oil with 1 teaspoon of honey and 1 teaspoon of coconut oil for skin relief.
- Rub the mixture on the area of concern twice daily.
Turmeric is a wonder herb with antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that can greatly relieve the symptoms of scabies.
- Mix 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder and a few drops of lemon juice and water to make a thick paste. Apply the paste on the affected skin and leave it on for 1 hour. Then, rinse it off with lukewarm water. Do this once daily until you notice significant improvement.
- Mix 1 teaspoon each of turmeric powder and neem powder. Add some water to form a smooth paste. Dab the paste on the affected areas and let it dry on its own. After it has dried, take a bath or shower to wash it off. Repeat this once daily.
Along with these remedies, it is very important to avoid contact with an infected person and their personal items. Also, keep the surrounding area neat and clean to prevent the mites and scabies from spreading.
Does Scabies Feel Like Something is Crawling on You?
Unlike a lot of other parasitic insects, mites, or arthropods that produce a biting or crawling sensation when they latch on to human skin, scabies mites set up shop silently without giving any inkling of an infestation. It is only after several weeks that the itching begins, and you wake up to this condition.
How Do I Check Myself for Scabies?
Because a scabies mite is less than half a millimeter in length, it’s almost impossible to spot them without the help of a magnifying glass and bright light.
However, there is one fairly hassle-free method to positively identify the presence of mites on your skin. If your skin is riddled with visible bumps or burrow tracks that are commonly associated with scabies, chances are you have been infested.
In order to take a closer look, you will have to first delineate the affected site. Use a dark washable wide-tip marker to smear the suspicious bumps or burrows, and then wipe away the ink with an alcohol wipe or alcohol-soaked gauze.
If there’s indeed a scabies burrow under the skin, you will notice a dark indented line as the ink often remains along the tracks. At times, you can even spot a small dot at the end of the burrow which is most likely to be the parasitic mite.
Can I Get Scabies from My Pet?
Although your pets are just as likely to get a scabies infestation, the mites responsible for canine or feline scabies are different from those that trigger human scabies. This condition is commonly referred to as “mange” in animals.
It is possible for humans to pick up animal mite from an infested pet, but unlike human scabies, these variants cannot reproduce on human skin.
Despite zero chance of survival on a human host, these mites can get under your skin and cause temporary itching and skin irritation before they die their natural death in a couple of days.
So long as the mange-ridden animal doesn’t get proper treatment, these mites will continue to burrow into the skin of any person who comes in contact with the diseased pet.
What are the Possible Complications of Scabies?
If left untreated, scabies can give rise to far more serious complications. The continuous and prolonged scratching of the mite-ridden skin can rupture its barrier layer and pave the way for other pathogens.
Once the skin is broken or injured due to vigorous scratching, certain bacteria that normally reside on the skin, such as Staphylococcus aureus and beta-hemolytic streptococci, gain free entry and give rise to secondary skin infections such as impetigo.
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