What is scabies?
Scabies is a contagious skin condition characterized by small and itchy red spots caused by a tiny mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. Mites tend to burrow into the skin, which urges an individual to itch. Itching often worsens during nighttime.
Scabies can spread through prolonged close contact with individuals who have the infestation. The mites can be easily passed between sexual partners and family members. For this reason, doctors often recommend treating all family members or contact groups. Treatment for scabies involves topical medications that are applied to the skin. These medications will kill the mites and their eggs. However, itching may still be experienced for several weeks.
Scabies infestation is seen as a common occurrence around the world. It can affect individuals of any age or gender. There have been an estimated 300 million cases of scabies occurring each year all over the world.
Scabies produces skin rashes with small red bumps and blisters. A specific part of the body is often infested with mites. Its main signs and symptoms include severe itching at night and the presence of irregular burrow tracks with tiny bumps on the skin. The burrow tracks are usually seen in skin folds, but may also be present in other parts of the body. In older children and adults, scabies is often found:
- Between the fingers (webs)
- Axillary folds
- Inner elbow
- Inside of wrists
- Shoulder blades
- Around the nipples and under the breasts
- Around the waist
- Genital area
- Soles of the feet
The most common infestation sites in babies and young children are:
- Head (face and scalp)
- Palms of the hands
- Soles of the feet
For individuals who have had scabies in the past, their signs and symptoms usually develop after a few days of exposure. However, for those who had scabies for the first time, the signs and symptoms could take as long as six weeks to show. It is also important to note that scabies can still be spread by asymptomatic individuals.
Sarcoptes scabiei is a microscopic eight-legged mite that causes scabies in humans. A female mite usually burrows beneath the human skin and creates a tunnel for its eggs. When the eggs are hatched, mite larvae go out to the skin surface, where they fully mature and spread to other parts of the body. The extreme itchiness experienced by people with scabies results from the body's allergic reaction to the mites along with their eggs and waste.
A person with a scabies infestation can spread the mites through close physical contact with other people as well as sharing of clothes and beddings.
Skin can break if it is vigorously scratched, and when this happens, a secondary bacterial infection can occur. One example would be impetigo, which is a superficial skin infection due to Staphylococcus bacteria or Streptococcus species, in a few cases.
Crusted scabies is also called as Norwegian scabies. It is a severe but rare form of scabies that tends to affect large areas of the body with scaly and crusty lesions. This form of scabies is highly contagious and can be very difficult to treat. It may affect the following high-risk groups:
- Individuals who have a weakened immune system, such as those with chronic leukemia and HIV/AIDS
- Elderly people who live in nursing homes
- People who are seriously ill, such as those who are confined to nursing facilities and hospitals
Scabies is diagnosed through a physical examination. Doctors usually inspect the affected skin area and if the skin has a characteristic burrowing. The doctor can also confirm the diagnosis by extracting a mite from the skin using a needle. Aside from mite extraction, the doctor may also scrape off the affected skin area to collect a tissue sample. The collected tissue sample will then be further examined under the microscope to confirm the presence of the mites along with their eggs.
Scabies can be commonly treated by a family doctor, primary care doctor, or internist. For further diagnosis, some people may reach out to a dermatologist (skin specialist).
Scabies can be treated by the administration of prescribed scabicide medications in the form of lotions or creams. These medications are only prescribed by doctors and cannot be purchased over-the-counter. The medications are usually applied all over the body from the neck down for a minimum of eight hours. Another type of treatment is prescribed if new lesions or burrows appear.
Other medications recommended for scabies are:
- Permethrin - It is a topical cream, which can effectively kill mites and their eggs. Permethrin creams are usually applied from the neck down and left overnight. Its application must be done for seven days. Although this medication is not recommended for breastfeeding mothers, the application of this cream is safe for pregnant women, adults, and children older than 2 months old.
- Ivermectin - This oral medication is usually prescribed for people who have weakened immune systems, those with crusted scabies, and people who do not respond to prescribed creams and lotions. However, ivermectin is not recommended for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding, and children who are less than 15 kg (33 pounds).
- Sulfur in Petrolatum - This can also be applied to the affected skin area. It has been considered as one of the earliest treatment for scabies. However, it has not been approved by the FDA. This medication should only be used when other medications, such as ivermectin, permethrin, or lindane, prove to be ineffective.
Natural Remedies for Scabies
1. Tiger Balm
Tiger Balm is a topical cream used to help reduce inflammation as well as to provide relief from pain and aches in the muscles. It is known to work as an analgesic agent since it contains camphor and clove oil. Tiger Balm may not be effective in killing the mites or curing the infestation, but it would surely provide some kind of relief while waiting for complete healing.
2. Anise Seed Oil
According to studies, anise seed oil possesses insecticidal properties, which can be used for the treatment of scabies including head lice. However, anise seed oil is not recommended for pregnant women.
3. Neem Oil
Neem oil is a quite popular home remedy for killing scabies mites. At the same time, it prevents the ability of the mites to grow and breed. Neem oil can also help numb pain and provides relief from itching, thereby making it suitable for the treatment of scabies symptoms.
4. Clove Oil
Clove oil is said to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, as well as antimicrobial properties, which can be surely used to help dry up scabies blisters and rashes. According to one study conducted in the year 2010, clove oil has the ability to treat scabies mites. You can mix 10 drops of clove oil along with one teaspoon of honey and a teaspoon of coconut oil to relieve skin rashes and eliminate mites. Rub this mixture gently to the affected region twice a day.