Scabies is caused by mites that burrow under the upper layer of human skin, feeding on blood and laying eggs. Scabies is extremely itchy and causes gray lines on your skin along with red bumps.
Scabies mites are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person or by extended contact with the clothing, bedding, or towels of an infected person.
People of any class or race can get scabies, and it’s most common where living conditions are crowded. Scabies can be difficult to treat.
How they look
Scabies is caused by the mite known as the Sarcoptes scabiei. These mites are so tiny that they can’t be seen by the human eye. When viewed by a microscope, you’d see they have a round body and eight legs.
You can’t see scabies, so you have to identify them by the rash they cause. Here are a few key indicators:
- The most common symptoms of scabies are a rash and intense itching that gets worse at night.
- The scabies rash looks like blisters or pimples: pink, raised bumps with a clear top filled with fluid. Sometimes they appear in a row.
- Scabies can also cause gray lines on your skin along with red bumps.
- Your skin may have red and scaly patches.
- Scabies mites attack the entire body, but they particularly like the skin around the hands and feet.
Scabies looks similar to rashes caused by:
Treatment is usually a topical medication that’s prescribed by a doctor.
To help relieve some of the bothersome symptoms associated with scabies, your doctor may also prescribe additional medications to control itching and swelling.
Itching may continue for weeks, even if the first application of medicine works. Be sure to remain on the lookout for new tracks or bumps. These signs may be indications that a second treatment is necessary.
Anyone exposed to scabies should be treated.
Many natural treatments are available to help relieve the symptoms of scabies, including:
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil can heal your skin rash and help stop itching. However, keep in mind that it’s not as effective at fighting scabies eggs deep within your skin.
Add a small amount of tea tree oil to a squirt bottle and spray it on your bed linen and sheets.
The neem plant eases inflammation and pain. It also has antibacterial properties. Neem is available as an oil and can also be found in soaps and creams.
A small study found that aloe vera gel was as good as prescription-strength medication at fighting scabies. If you opt for aloe vera gel, make sure to buy pure aloe vera gel that contains no additives.
There’s little evidence that cayenne pepper can kill scabies mites. But when applied topically, it can reduce pain and itching.
You should always perform the skin patch test before using products made with cayenne pepper or the component capsaicin.
Clove oil and other essential oils
Clove oil is an insecticide and has been shown to kill scabies mites taken from rabbits and pigs.
More research and human studies are needed, but other essential oils may also have the potential to treat scabies. Ones that you can try include lavender, thyme, and nutmeg.
People who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or otherwise have health concerns should consult their doctors before trying any of these at-home remedies.
How scabies breed
Scabies eggs are laid under the skin and hatch into larvae after about four days. In another four days, the mites are mature and ready to lay the next generation of eggs. This cycle continues until halted by medical treatment.
Scabies can live and breed on your skin for several weeks before your immune system has an allergic reaction and symptoms appear.
Scabies mites don’t live on animals. They crawl and are unable to jump or fly. Scabies mites can’t live away from a human host for more than three days, but they can survive for one to two months with a host.
Bed bugs can’t cause scabies, since scabies is specific to the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. Scabies mites must live in human skin to feed and breed. Bed bugs don’t live in human skin. They feed on blood from humans or animals and are mostly active at night.
In addition, scabies mites are generally smaller than bed bugs. When fully grown, each mite is no bigger than the size of the point of a pin. Bed bugs are reddish-brown, oval-shaped insects with six legs. They can be as large as 1 to 7 millimeters — and so are visible to the human eye.
The mere thought of playing host to a family of scabies mites is unpleasant. It should be noted, however, that scabies mites don’t transmit diseases. That said, extensive scratching could cause secondary infection, such as impetigo.
In rare instances, Norwegian, or crusted, scabies can develop. Usually this more severe version only occurs as a result of a weakened immune system or when a scabies infestation goes untreated for months or years.