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Scratching that itch: What is scabies and how can you treat it?

Before reading, be warned that continuing may cause you to start scratching your skin unconsciously or leave you feeling itchy. You've been warned. Now carry on.

Scabies: a common skin condition caused by mites. These 8-legged bugs are small enough to go undetected by the human eye. If that's not enough to get you feeling itchy, keep reading.

Most people get scabies from direct, skin-to-skin contact, as mites can travel from infected person to another person. However, people can also pick up mites from infested items like bedding, clothes and furniture. And not to make you worry, but these tiny bugs don't discriminate either. Anyone can get scabies – all ages, races and income levels can be infected. Now that we have your attention, I'm sure you're probably thinking, "what does scabies look like?"

Well, let's start at the beginning. Scabies is caused when mites burrow into the top layer of a person's skin where they live, feed and breed. The number one symptom of scabies is itching, which can be so intense it will keep a person up at night. Unfortunately for our comfort level, it takes time to develop the signs and symptoms of scabies…

(Get rid of scabies with the help of an online dermatologist.)

If a person has had scabies in the past, the itching usually begins within 1-4 days. When someone hasn't had the condition before, the body takes time to develop a reaction to the mite, which can take 2-6 weeks. Once the itching begins, a rash may develop as well. This rash causes little bumps that often form a line, which look like tiny hives, bites, knots under the skin, or pimples. Some patients also experience sores from scratching the rash and/or in extreme cases, thick crusts on the skin.

Scabies can develop anywhere on the skin, but the mites prefer to burrow in certain parts of the body. The most common places to have a rash are:

  • Hands
  • Arms
  • Skin usually covered by clothing or jewelry

The good news? Scabies is treatable; however, treatment is essential, and medicine to treat scabies is only available with a doctor's prescription. Visiting with a dermatologist is in order! In addition to people infected with scabies, everyone that lives with a person being treated or any recent sexual partners should be treated as well to prevent new outbreaks. Also, to get rid of the mites and prevent getting scabies again, you will need to wash clothes, bedding and towels, as well as vacuum your entire home.

The bad news? For the first few days to a week, the rash and itch can worsen during treatment; however, within four weeks, your skin should heal. It is also important to note that some people need to treat scabies two or three times to get rid of the mites.

If you think you or someone you live with may be suffering from scabies, see a dermatologist immediately. Some people don't seek medical help because they are embarrassed by the condition, but as we mentioned earlier, anyone can get scabies – no matter how clean you or your home are.