Scabies Symptoms and Treatments

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Foxx_080216Scabies Symptoms: Overview

The good news is that not all bumps and pimples on your skin are due to acne, eczema, or another skin disorder that you may feel genetically doomed to experience. The bad news is that they may be from having insects burrowing into your skin—a condition known as scabies, which can be cured with home remedies too.

Scabies is the name of the immune reaction your body has in response to Sarcoptes scabiei, a type of mite. The condition can spread quite quickly, so knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms of scabies can play a big role in protecting friends, family, and bystanders from catching it.

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Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Scabies

You can have scabiei mites living, loving, and feasting within you for several weeks before symptoms start to appear. The buggers tend to prefer the folds of the skin but can appear anywhere on the body. Mites lack the ability to fly and can’t jump particularly far, so it requires prolonged physical contact for them to be transferred to another part of the body or a new victim. Although any part of the body can be affected, adults and children don’t often experience outbreaks in the same locations.

  • Among adults, the most commonly affected areas include armpits, elbows, the inner wrist, between fingers, the waist, soles of the feet, buttocks, knees, shoulder blades, the breasts and genital areas.
  • In children and infants, the scalp, face, neck, palms, and soles of the feet are more likely to be affected.

It can take up to six weeks on average for symptoms to make themselves known but you can still spread mites to other people or pets before symptoms appear. Once you have experienced a bout of scabies, your immune system will learn to recognize the mites and will react faster in the future. Should you become infested with scabiei at a later date; symptoms will often appear in a matter of days rather than weeks.

While living on and/or within you, the mites will burrow, feed, and lay eggs. The mites themselves are microscopic and cannot be seen by the naked eye; however their activities leave behind highly noticeable symptoms:

  • Bites: Since the symptoms are a result of an allergic reaction, it is not surprising that the rash caused by scabies is similar to that produced by poison ivy. The bites will be pink, raised bumps that resemble blisters and have a clear top that may be filled with fluid. The bites sometimes appear in a row formation and are exceptionally itchy, especially at night.
  • Burrow tracks: As the mites burrow and lay their eggs, thin tracks can sometimes be seen in the skin. These irregular tracks will be raised and about as thin as the lead from a mechanical pencil. Unfortunately, track marks only appear in around 25% of all scabies cases. This is regrettable, since the track marks plus bites are a handy way of recognizing the condition.
  • Crusts: It is rare, but the elderly or those with weakened immune systems can develop what is known as “crusted scabies”. This when the mites are able to spread over the body with gusto. Although crusted scabies does not itch as much, it can result in scaly rashes and thick crusts of skin over the entire body as the mites revel in the abundant, fertile ground.

Complications of Scabies

The good news is that scabies is not particularly dangerous. The main risks come from how difficult the mites can be to remove. Complications include the following:

  • Impetigo: If allowed to persist for several years, it is possible for impetigo—a form of superficial sore caused by bacteria or parasites—to develop.
  • Crusted scabies: Prolonged bouts of scabies also increase the likelihood of developing crusted scabies, which is much more contagious and harder to treat.
  • Scratching and infections: Another thing to watch out for is scratching. While scabies can be extremely itchy, scratching should be avoided as much as possible. Scratching runs the risk of breaking the skin and creating avenues of infection for other bacteria.
  • Skin conditions: Other bumpy, itchy skin conditions like dermatitis or eczema are not necessarily risk factors for scabies but they can make it trickier to identify symptoms.

Should you suspect you have scabies, it is highly advisable to consult your doctor. They will be able to make a better diagnosis and can prescribe proper treatments.

Treatments for Scabies

The eggs of the scabiei mite can hatch within four days of being laid and the larvae will mature enough to lay their own eggs four days after that. This recurrent cycle, coupled with the potentially months-long period before symptoms appear, allows for sufficient buildup to make scabies difficult to eliminate without targeted treatment. Keep the following factors in mind:

  • Over-the-counter treatments won’t kill the mites: Over-the-counter treatments and even regular bathing and scrubbing are not enough to properly kill all of the mites. Doing so requires the use of prescription creams and lotions that are applied over the body. Due to how contagious scabies can be and the delay period for symptoms, it is highly advisable that all members of a household undergo treatment even if they aren’t showing signs.
  • Use treatment cream to kill the mites: The good news is that scabies treatment is usually a one-time affair. You apply the cream over your entire body—make sure to get it over the folds of the skin—and let it sit for a minimum of eight hours. This is often enough to kill all of the mites on and under your skin and additional treatment is only employed if new burrows or bite-rashes appear. Exercise care when using the creams and make sure to read the labels properly. These are effective, but powerful, treatments that can have side effects if used improperly or given to a nursing mother or small infant.

Unlike, say, fleas or bedbugs, cases of scabies rarely requires the replacement of clothes or furniture since the mites can only survive around three days without a host.

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Scabies Prevention

Preventing re-infestation is normally just a matter of washing any clothes or bedding used within the past three days with hot, soapy water and drying them in high heat. Anything that can’t be cleaned should be placed in a sealed plastic bag or container for a week to starve the mites.

It will take some time for the rashes and blisters to go away once the mites are dead. Calamine lotion, cool soaks, wet washcloths, and antihistamines can all help ease the itchiness as you wait for your immune system to relax.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Scabies,” Mayo Clinic web site, July 7, 2015; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/scabies/basics/definition/con-20023488.

“Understanding Lice and Scabies – Symptoms,” WebMD web site; http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/understanding-lice-scabies-symptoms, last accessed January 07, 2016.  
Carey, E., “Scabies: The Seven-Year-Itch,” Healthline web site, September 13, 2013; http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/scabies-bites#1, last accessed January 07, 2016. 


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Dr. Richard Foxx, MD

About the Author, Browse Richard's Articles

Richard M. Foxx, MD has decades of medical experience with a comprehensive background in endocrinology, aesthetic and laser medicine, gynecology, and sports medicine. He has extensive experience with professional athletes, including several Olympic competitors. Dr. Foxx practices aesthetic and laser medicine, integrative medicine, and anti-aging medicine. He is the founder and Medical Director of the Medical and Skin Spa located in Indian Wells, California, at the Hyatt Regency Resort. Dr. Foxx is certified by the National Board of Medical Examiners... Read Full Bio »