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All About Scabies: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Scabies can result in a contagious rash caused by minuscule mites that burrow under your skin. But what is scabies, what causes it, and what forms of scabies treatment are available? We’ve got everything you need to know about this uncomfortable and itchy skin condition.

Scabies is an itchy and uncomfortable skin condition caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, a microscopic creature that burrows under the skin to lay its eggs. When the eggs hatch under your skin, the larvae return to the surface where they mature and can travel to other areas of your body or other people. The parasitic mite knows no boundaries. It can infect humans of all ages, ethnicities, genders, and social groups. 

Scabies is highly contagious and spreads easily through close physical contact. Scabies outbreaks are especially common in group care settings like nursing homes, schools, hospitals, and daycares. 

Wherever the mite burrows, intense itching follows. The body creates an allergic reaction to the mites, their eggs, and their waste, causing you to develop an itchy rash. 

How do you know if you have scabies? Keep reading to find out what scabies symptoms to look out for.

The easiest way to identify scabies is based on how it looks and feels.

The first major scabies symptom is intense itching, which is usually worse at night. 

If you’re wondering what scabies look like, the eight-legged mite is tiny and almost impossible to see while examining your skin. To the naked eye, they’re less than half a millimeter in size and may only look like a black dot on the skin. 

The first major scabies symptom is intense itching, which is usually worse at night.

On the other hand, a scabies rash is much easier to spot. The scabies rash looks like irregular clusters of red blisters or bumps along your skin. Some cases of scabies look like a rash of pimples. You’ll also be able to see track-like lines just under the surface of your skin, which indicates the mite’s burrowing path. The affected areas appear wherever the female mites have burrowed and laid their eggs.

Although the mites can burrow almost anywhere on your body, the scabies rash typically appears in folds of skin, like on the wrists, inner elbows, knees, or between fingers. Rashes can also appear on your waist, breasts, or butt.  

Scabies symptoms can take up to six weeks to appear. If you’ve had scabies before, signs and symptoms may appear sooner, within a few days of exposure. 

Scabies spreads through direct and prolonged skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. In less common cases, scabies mites can spread by sharing clothing or bedding with someone who has scabies. Typically, a person with scabies will be infected by 10 to 15 mites. 

Scabies spreads through direct and prolonged skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

You can still spread scabies even if you don’t have any symptoms. That’s why it’s important to be treated if you’ve been in recent and close physical contact with someone who has had it.

Now that you know what causes scabies and what the symptoms are, you might be wondering how to get rid of scabies.

Scabies is easily treated with a prescription scabicide cream or lotion that will kill the mites. You have to apply the lotion over your whole body, from the neck down, and not wash it off for 8 to 10 hours. 

Scabies is easily treated with a prescription scabicide cream or lotion that will kill the mites.

Follow the instructions on the label, and speak with your doctor or pharmacist if itching continues several weeks after treatment or if you notice new burrows and rashes. Only use scabicide that’s intended for human use, not veterinary or agriculture use.

Although the only way to treat scabies is with a prescription cream or lotion, you can still take over-the-counter medication or use at-home treatments for your itching symptoms: 

  • Soak your skin in cool water or take an oatmeal bath.
  • Apply calamine lotion to the itchy areas to soothe irritation.
  • Antihistamines may also help alleviate your body’s allergic reaction to the mites or eggs.

Scabies rashes can turn into blisters or sores caused by excessive scratching. These open wounds may become infected and lead to a bacterial infection or permanent scarring.

In more severe cases, you can have crusted scabies (sometimes referred to as Norwegian scabies), causing your skin to scale. Crusted scabies are highly contagious, affect large areas of the body, and are much harder to treat. 

Scabies rashes can turn into blisters or sores caused by excessive scratching. These open wounds may become infected and lead to a bacterial infection.

Older people in nursing homes and people with chronic health conditions and weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV, are at a higher risk of developing crusted scabies.

Here are some tips on how to avoid a scabies infestation or re-infection: 

  • Practice good hygiene, especially if you spend time in areas where the risk of a scabies infestation is higher. 
  • Clean all fabrics thoroughly. Dry clean or wash all bedding, towels, and clothes in hot, soapy water to kill any mites. Dry them with high heat. Place any items you can’t wash in sealed plastic bags for a couple of weeks to starve the mites. 
  • Vacuum the house thoroughly to get rid of any mites that may have fallen off of an affected person’s skin.
  • If you work in close contact with others, for example, at a daycare, hospital, or nursing home, notify them of any infestation so they can take preventive measures as well.

If you think you have scabies, speak with your doctor as soon as possible so that you can get a prescription scabicide and treat the condition early. Avoid the spread of scabies by taking preventive measures to keep your clothes and house clean if you’ve come in contact with someone who has scabies. 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/scabies/symptoms-causes/syc-20377378

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/scabies/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20377383

https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/gen_info/faqs.html

https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/12151/crusted-scabies

https://www.aad.org/diseases/a-z/scabies-treatment

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/scabies/

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