Scabies Symptoms, Treatment, Natural Remedies, and Prevention
What Is Scabies?
Scabies is an infestation of the skin caused by the microscopic Sarcoptes scabiei mite. Scabies mites are invisible to the human eye and are, therefore, easy to pass to other people.
The infestation starts when the female mite begins to eat into the skin to lay eggs. The females make tunnels under the top layer of skin as they eat their way through it. They will then remain in these burrows for the rest of their life cycle.
Female mites can lay eggs as soon as they get under human skin and will continue to lay eggs more than once a day for about two months. The new mites hatch from the eggs in as little as 3-4 days. The young mites settle around hair follicles. Within four days of development, the "newborns" are ready to mate. The females will look for males and then lay more eggs.
If left untreated, the infestation is disastrous because the mites multiply in a matter of days. People who are afflicted with scabies may show symptoms in as little as 1-4 days if they hosted a previous infestation in their lifetime. Those who are infested for the first time may not experience symptoms for up to 6 weeks. Mites live under the skin for only two months and cannot withstand high temperatures of over 120°F.
Common Locations for Scabies Infestations on the Body
Between the fingers
Around the wrists
Around the waist
On the elbows
Soles of the feet
Symptoms of Scabies
The most identifiable and common symptom of scabies is an intense itch all over the infected areas. This itch is an allergic reaction to the mites and the debris they leave behind. The itching tends to be more severe during the nighttime and is accompanied by a pimple-like rash. The mites' burrows will be slightly raised and uneven and can be gray or skin-colored. The rash may soon become infected.
Scabies can spread all over the body or stay localized in a few areas. Young children are most likely to get it on their neck, scalp, or foot soles. The most comfortable place for the mites to reside is anywhere in the folds of the skin.
How Do You Get Scabies?
Scabies is very easy to get if you come in direct and prolonged contact with an afflicted person. Adults may spread it by living in shared households or engaging in sexual activity with an affected person. Children may acquire scabies from their household or other places like daycare or school. It also spreads by sharing items with a host, including:
Types of Scabies
There are two main types of scabies:
- Regular or mild scabies. Mild scabies is easily treated with prescription creams or simple, natural remedies. It mostly occurs in healthy people or people who have previously had it.
- Crusted or Norwegian scabies is a more severe form of scabies. It mostly occurs in people with a compromised immune system. Elderly people, or those who have serious health issues, are more likely to be affected. People with crusted scabies will have thick, crusty bumps on their skin. These people are highly contagious since they carry a large mite population under their skin and can spread the mites very quickly to others. It is mostly found in nursing homes, prisons, and other highly populated public areas. Patients with crusted scabies require more aggressive and prolonged treatment because they don't always respond to standard treatment.
How to Treat and Prevent Scabies
Treating scabies is not that easy since people often don't show symptoms for a few weeks. Although only one person in the household can have obvious signs of it, all other members of the household need to be treated at the same time with no exceptions.
Prescription drugs given to the patients are called scabicides. They work by killing the mites and their eggs at the same time to prevent the infestation from spreading.
The standard treatment of scabies includes prescription topical creams and lotions such as:
- Permethrin cream
- Lindane lotion
- Benzyl Benzoate
In the case of crusted scabies, it may be necessary to repeat the course of treatment. Oral antibiotics are often prescribed alongside the scabicides because some patients develop secondary skin infections.
Since scabies is accompanied by an intense itch across the infested areas, oral antihistamines such as Benadryl or generic versions can be taken.
The most important part of treatment is disinfecting all of the shared and personal items in the household. Bedding, towels, clothing, and anything that came in contact with the afflicted person needs to be washed in hot water and dried in the dryer. You should dry clean the items that can't be washed. The whole house needs to be treated to make sure all the mites and eggs are killed.
The best way to prevent infestation is to avoid contact with a host. In some cases, it's impossible to avoid contact because a parent may need to take care of an afflicted child. In this case, you should follow the standard treatment for all members of the household.
Natural and Home Remedies for Scabies
Scabies mites may be hard to kill with standard medicated treatments, and repeated treatments don't always work.
- Neem oil is the number one recommended natural treatment for scabies. Neem oil is the only known oil that will kill the mites and their eggs. It has been used for thousands of years to treat skin infections and disorders. When applied to the skin, it relieves the itch and irritation, numbs the pain, and reduces inflammation of the skin and redness. Neem oil can be applied as follows:
- Wet a piece of cloth and leave it on the infected skin for 15-20 minutes.
- Repeat the application twice a day until the issue is resolved.
- Rub the neem oil into the skin for up to 2 times a day if the infestation has spread all over the body.
- Tea tree oil is also a very powerful natural remedy. Tea tree oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties. It should be diluted before it's applied to the skin. A teaspoon of tea tree oil can also be added to a bath or equally diluted with olive oil and applied twice a day to the affected areas.
- Cold water will provide moisture for the irritated skin. Soaking the infected areas in cold water for about 20 minutes 3 times a day will also aid in reducing inflammation.
- Sulfur ointment is one of the oldest and most inexpensive ways of treating scabies. The sulfur ointment can be applied to the entire body before going to bed and washing it off in the morning. The treatment may be repeated for 3-4 days until the issue is resolved. Skin should be clean before applying the sulfur ointment treatment; you may also use sulfur soap.
How Long Has Scabies Been Around?
Archeological excavations in Egypt suggest that scabies has been around for at least 2500 years. The ancient Roman physician, Celcus, is responsible for giving scabies its name. This irritating condition was named scabere in Latin, which translates to "itch." In ancient times, it was associated with poverty due to a lack of good hygiene.
Another physician, Giovanni Bonomo, was the first to identify the cause of scabies symptoms. He observed the microscopic mites and described them as "6-legged monsters." Bonomo was also able to accurately describe the process of mite reproduction under the skin. He was the first physician in the world to correctly document everything about scabies and offer effective treatments. Bonomo suggested that all linens and clothing items of the infected had to be washed. He also discovered the first remedy for scabies which is still used to this day: sulfur.
Have you ever had scabies?
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.