Pinworms: How Do I Get Rid of Them?
Whether you have never heard of them or are currently battling them, pinworms (also known as threadworms) are an extremely contagious parasite that can make your daily life miserable. According to the CDC website, pinworms are the most common parasite in the United States, surpassing head lice in their prevalence.
I decided to write this article after my own experience with pinworms, and the long (six month) battle of researching and experimenting to figuring out which remedies actually work to get rid of them. I will walk you through what pinworms are, how they are spread, how to get rid of them, and how to prevent them from coming back. If you are currently in a battle against pinworms, then the results of my trial and error will save you tons of time and frustration.
What are Pinworms?
Pinworms are a small white worm (about the size of a staple) that set up camp in your small intestine before starting their reproductive cycle inside your body. They are visible to the human eye, but their eggs require the use of a microscope to be seen. The eggs can spread to you from direct contact with others, campsites and other outdoor areas, preschools (and places where many children are), the gym, your workplace, public restrooms, and just about anywhere people go.
How Does Infection Happen?
Infection often happens when you touch an object that was previously touched by someone with pinworm eggs under their nails, and then you somehow ingest those eggs. You can also get pinworms directly from outdoor areas, eating contaminated food, or even from inhaling eggs in the air. The possibilities of infection are terrifyingly endless: The eggs can survive 2-3 weeks without a host (you), so they can be found on bedsheets, couches, clothes, bathtubs, door handles, carpets, blankets, you name it. All it takes is for you to touch that area then put your hand to your mouth, and you are infected.
What I ran into frequently during my research is that children are highly likely to carry pinworms, since anal itching causes them to scratch the area (even in their sleep), and then spread them to others from their hands. However, it is important to note that children are not the only source of the parasite, as exemplified above. In my case, I believe I caught the infection from a trip to a foreign country.
So how do they multiply? The eggs take around one month after infection to hatch and reproduce inside your body. At this point, the female worms move to the anus area and lay around 10,000 eggs in the region, which usually occurs at night. One common symptom of pinworms is anal itching, and this is because the sticky coating that surrounds the eggs is a skin irritant.
For a few months of trying to get rid of the parasite, I did not know that infection can reoccur directly from the anus. This means if your underwear or bathing suit get pinworms on them (whether it be from your own body or from the environment) and you wear the garment, the worms can crawl back up into your intestine from the anus. Aside from this being unbearably disgusting, it also means that reinfecting yourself while trying to get rid of them is common-- unless you follow strict cleaning procedures (which I will cover later).
What are Common Symptoms?
- Anal itching
- Difficulty sleeping (due to itching)
- Infection of female genital tract (yes, they can infect your vagina)
- Vaginal discharge
- Abdominal pain
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Extreme hunger
- Sugar cravings
- Malabsorption of nutrients
- Weight loss
These are symptoms that I have researched as well as experienced. My worst symptoms were being irritable, extremely hungry and completely exhausted all the time. The parasite changed the way I thought and felt, turning me into a cranky and negative person, and made it difficult to stay awake during work (I would often feel like I could fall asleep standing up). I thought I was going crazy until I realized I had pinworms when I saw many white worm lines in my stool.
What Can I Take to Get Rid of Pinworms?
With a persistent routine and strict cleaning (I'll get to that, I promise), you can and you will get rid of pinworms. First and foremost, it is important that you check with your doctor before independently treating yourself for pinworms. In my experience, I decided to handle the situation with over-the-counter and natural remedies because the medicine my doctor prescribed me (mebendazole) was $700 with my insurance, due to a recent price hike (see link at bottom of article for more info on this). However, your medical coverage may be different, and a prescribed medicine might be the easier solution for you (which is why going to the doctor should be your first step).
Anyone who lives with you or who comes into contact with you frequently should also be treated, or they could reinfect you and themselves indefinitely. It may be embarrassing to talk about (especially if your child is infected and you need to notify other parents), but it is important to tell people before an outbreak occurs.
For any medicine you take, whether a natural remedy, prescription or over-the-counter drug, always read the labels carefully and make sure you know any side effects, drug interactions, and the proper dosage. What is safe for me to take may be dangerous for you! Some of my suggestions are not safe for pregnant/ nursing women.
The Remedies I Used
1. After going to the doctor and realizing I couldn't afford the prescription pinworm medicine, I started looking for over-the-counter solutions. The first medicine I tried was Reese's Pinworm Medicine, also known as Pyrantel, which was about $12 at Walgreens (pictured below). It is a liquid suspension that they tried really hard to flavor like bananas (to no avail). It is meant to be taken once, and then two weeks later if needed. This medicine is hard on your liver, and can make you sick if you take too much (the dosage is by body weight). I took a slightly higher dose than my body weight, and vomited for about 2 hours that night, so learn from my mistake.
The issue with Reese's is that it only kills the worms. It works by paralyzing them, and then your body gets rid of them in the stool. This is problematic because even with taking the second dose two weeks later, there is a high chance that there are still unhatched eggs inside your intestine. Also, even if the worms are paralyzed, if there is a pregnant worm that isn't removed in the stool right away, the eggs can still hatch and break out of the female worm. I probably took about five doses of Reese's over a few months of time, and the pinworms did go away, but they kept coming back a few days later.
2. I started taking an extract mixture of green black walnut extract, wormwood herb, and clove buds (pictured below) which can be found on Amazon for about $9 (here is the link to the NOW website). Black walnut extract is known to kill the worms as well as the eggs, unlike Pyrantel. You take this twice daily mixed with a glass of water (it must be diluted or it is considered poisonous), before you eat. It is extremely bitter with a sort of wooden taste. The bottle says to take for two weeks, but I took it for about a month. Once I started using this, my symptoms started going away. I am in no way trying to advocate this specific brand, but simply sharing for you what worked for me; there are also capsules of black walnut extract/cloves/wormwood that you can take in pill form if you don't want the bitter taste of the extract (my boyfriend took these).
3. Garlic, Garlic, Garlic! Eating raw garlic is known to kill both the worms and the eggs, so I skeptically started eating a large raw clove of garlic in the morning and one at night for a couple of weeks (in addition to the extract), and my itchy anal symptoms completely disappeared! My energy reappeared and I felt like I was taking my life back from my invisible egg enemies. Garlic can burn your tongue, but the way I ate it was to drink water with every bite. They also have garlic capsules, but I strongly suggest you take fresh, uncooked garlic for it to be most effective. I also minced it up and mixed it with my morning eggs for a more bearable method.
4. To prevent reinfecting myself during sleep, I made a mixture of virgin coconut oil and minced garlic, and applied this to the anus and outer vaginal area every morning and night after showering. I stored it in a small glass container, unrefrigerated; the longer it sits, the more potent it becomes. This helps to prevent worms from laying eggs in the anal area. Be extremely careful to wash your hands and never put a contaminated finger into the mixture before applying to your skin. Depending on how fresh the garlic is, you may feel a burning sensation. For me, the burning was more welcome than the itching.
5. I added apple cider vinegar to a bag of wet wipes, and used them after every restroom visit. Vinegar is known to create a highly acidic environment in which pinworms cannot live. Most websites say to take it orally, but I figured adding it to wipes would help prevent reinfection.
Cleaning and Preventing Reinfection
There are many steps you can take to prevent reinfection, and cleaning should be done as often as possible for at least a month from the date you start taking medicine. It will be tiring and a lot of work but do not give up, even after your symptoms disappear; I got rid of pinworms once and they came back again because I stopped cleaning. Here are some tips for cleaning and preventing the eggs from reinfecting you:
- Wash your hands frequently, and be aware of biting your nails or eating food with your hands.
- Never shake dirty clothes or lay them on the floor. Put them directly into the washer or a sealed bag until you can wash them. Wash everything in hot water.
- Wash all pillows, comforters, sheets, blankets, and clean all couches and chairs. It is important to wash your sheets at least once a week.
- Unfortunately Lysol and other disinfectants will not kill pinworms, but vacuuming daily will minimize the liklihood of eggs spreading in your home.
- Treat everyone in your household at the same time, even if they don't have any symptoms.
- Change air filter for air conditioner.
- Wipe down all door knobs, locks, and switches.
- Wipe down kitchen and bathroom counter surfaces frequently.
- Shower twice daily if possible (once in the morning and once at night). If not possible, then use wet wipes after every restroom use.
- Throw away all bath loofahs or reusable bath scrubbies, change washclothes daily, and change towels at least every 2 days.
A Quick Summary
Stay clean. Wash your hands often, and be aware of touching your hands to your mouth.
Do your research. You know your body, and you know what medications you take/complications you have. Before taking anything, make sure you know it is safe for you.
Inform others. If you don't tell others around you (or around your children, if they are infected) that you have pinworms, then they could likely spread it back to you, starting the nightmare all over again. It is important to overcome the embarrassment and recognize the importance of informing those who might be infected from you.
Be persistent. It may seem like a waste of time or money to follow these steps (lots of laundry, showering, cleaning and buying/taking supplements), but it will be much less of a hassle than being reinfected and having to start all over again. Keep at it and you will soon break free of this horrible parasite!