Scabies or sarcoptic mange is a highly contagious skin condition caused by tiny mites that burrow into the skin. The worldwide prevalence is estimated to be 100 million people, including hundreds of thousands of cases in the US. The itchy condition is generally easy to treat using topical or oral medications, but the symptoms can be irritating or even painful, depending on how long the mites are allowed to spread before treatment begins.
The main symptom of scabies is itching, though the sensation varies in severity from person to person. The itching may not also directly relate to the location of the mites, and often begins in a focused location and spreads outward. Because the scabies mites are most active at night, the itching can disrupt sleep. Doctors often recommend cool or lukewarm baths to relieve this symptom.
Once the itching sets in, a rash is usually quick to follow. Uneven red and blotchy patches develop on the skin; though they can affect any part of the body, the inner thighs, stomach, armpits, and buttocks are the most common locations. Some people also develop the rash around the nipples. This symptom is easy to confuse with other skin irritations and conditions, making it a difficult one on which to base a diagnosis.
Mite tunnels or burrows develop beneath the skin where the mites push their way through the body. They range in length from one to ten inches and may also present as fine, silvery lines on the skin. The burrows are most often visible in the webbing between the fingers, on the hands, and inside the wrists, though they can develop anywhere the mites pass through.
Pre-Existing Skin Conditions Worsen
Scabies can worsen other, existing skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. It can also cause severe dry skin. People with scabies can benefit from a high-quality moisturizer for sensitive skin in addition to itch-relieving topical medications for their chronic skin condition. A doctor can prescribe stronger options if over-the-counter versions do not offer enough relief.
Many illnesses cause nausea, so it is rare that doctors could diagnose scabies based on this common symptom. The passage of the mites through the skin can leave individuals feeling nauseous and may even prompt other stomach flu-like symptoms. When other worrisome symptoms accompany nausea, when nausea persists for more than a few days, or if vomiting lasts longer than 24 hours, see a doctor to receive a diagnosis.
Insomnia is a common condition that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve a good sleep. Because the mites increase their activity during the nighttime hours, many people with the infection develop insomnia, either finding it difficult to fall asleep, or waking repeatedly throughout the night due to itching and the feeling of things moving under the skin. Anti-itch and temporary sleep medications can help alleviate this symptom.
Any parasite can cause an allergic reaction, which can add more symptoms to an already uncomfortable infection. A person with scabies may develop red bumps on the skin when the body reacts to the mites and their eggs and waste. This inflammation can further exacerbate itching. Anithistamines and other allergy medications may help ease these symptoms until the scabies themselves are eradicated.
Dizziness or feeling lightheaded is another possible symptom of a scabies infection. Any change to internal wellness can throw off the body’s equilibrium, and this symptom often goes hand in hand with nausea. It is important to take necessary precautions when dizziness develops, including sitting down to avoid injury from fainting, and avoiding operating a vehicle until a doctor has addressed the issue.
Some people, develop a more advanced type of scabies infection called crusted scabies. In addition to the other common symptoms, crusted scabies get their name from the visible layer of crusted skin that grows over the abrasions and mite burrows. This typically only occurs when a person is infected with thousands of mites. However, it can also happen to people with impaired immune systems, even if only a few mites are present.
Contact with Someone Who Has Scabies
Contact with someone with scabies is not a symptom of infection, but it can raise one’s chances of getting the infection and developing symptoms because scabies is highly contagious. The mites are able to transfer from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact, so it is important to discuss preventing the spread of scabies with a doctor as soon as someone suspects they have contracted the infection. The individual should also wash all clothing and linens they may have touched during their infection.