Atypical Scabies Symptoms: Unusual Signs of Mites That Doctors Don't Recognize
What Are Scabies and What Do They Look Like?
Scabies are parasitic mites that infest human skin. They are contracted through contact with an infested person, be it as intimate and prolonged as sexual intercourse or as brief as picking up a child at a daycare facility. The scabies mite is usually spread by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person who has scabies. In other words, you can get scabies from even the most casual contact with a stranger—provided they have scabies.
The mites are very small and cannot be easily seen with the naked eye. You probably won't see scabies crawling on your skin; you will only see the symptoms. Their burrow marks are often visible as curvy, grayish lines on the skin. Rashes or pimple-like bumps resembling bug bites may also be present.
Healthcare professionals look for evidence of scabies between the fingers and toes, across the shoulder blades, in the armpits, along the inner elbows and insides of the wrists, around the breasts, waist, genitals, buttocks, and knees, as well as on the soles of the feet. Widespread belief within the healthcare community holds that the scabies largely avoid the face and scalp. It is also a common belief that these mites are too small to elicit a crawling sensation on the skin, although the body's immune response to the mite, and to the feces and eggs it deposits in its burrow, leads to severe itching.
What Scabies Might Look Like
Misdiagnosed Mites: Doctors Don't Always Recognize Scabies
The above may indeed describe the typical presentation of a scabies infestation, but sometimes scabies do appear on the face and scalp, and sometimes they do cause a tickling, crawling sensation.
My husband and I had a yearlong battle with the scabies mite, one that doctors failed to recognize because our scabies did not "fit the picture."
First, we did not itch at all. In fact, the first odd sensation that both my husband and I felt was a tickle in the nose that simply would not go away, scratch as we may. It persisted for days and then weeks, and finally, an entire year. We also periodically felt an ever-so-slight weight landing on our eyelashes, as though someone had blown a handful of dust in our faces. I had a few bumps on the outer parts of my arm that looked and felt like pinpricks, but my husband had none. We both felt a crawling sensation across our feet and on our legs at various times throughout any given day. The doctors said the symptoms did not resemble scabies and that we should not worry about it. When the symptoms persisted, they even suggested the problem might be in our minds.
So instead of being diagnosed and treated for scabies, we were told it was all in our heads. A suggestion of 'delusional parasitosis' by more than one doctor would seem rather inappropriate given that two individuals with no history of mental illness began experiencing dermatological symptoms within the same week.
What this experience has taught my husband and me is that doctors aren't always right.
When You Think You Have Scabies—But the Doctors Don't
There are seemingly hundreds, if not thousands, of folks out there in cyberspace searching for an explanation for crawling sensations and itchy bites that appear to arise from an invisible culprit. Perhaps we are not the only ones the doctors have misdiagnosed.
After year of suffering unnecessarily, only to discover that the doctors were wrong, my husband and I realized we needed to share our story and offer more accurate information on scabies symptoms.
If this happens to you, you'll have to work harder to help the doctors help you.
Tracking Down the Scabies Culprit
Because we knew it was not all in our heads, we had to find other ways to discover what the invisible culprit was. We began taping our skin whenever we felt a crawling sensation in the hopes of finding something under a microscope. We pressed scotch tape to the spot where we felt something, hoping to collect evidence on the tape. It took a long time to find any proof because these mites spend most of their time under the skin, but we eventually got lucky. We put the tape under the microscope and saw what looked like a mite. We took a picture of what we found and sent it to a mite expert for identification.
The tickling and crawling sensations we felt on our bodies, including our faces, were indeed caused by scabies. A simple Permethrin treatment got rid of the mites after an entire year of suffering, although the treatment drug causes its own immune reaction that sometimes feels as though the parasites are back. We've been told now by others who have had this reaction to the Permethrin that the immunological reaction eventually goes away, but can take months. In any case, it is not nearly as annoying or worrisome as the mysterious mite symptoms, so we are happy.
Diagnosing Scabies and Educating Your Doctor
Worldwide, approximately 300 million people have scabies at any one time. Given the persistence of this parasite and the lack of knowledge on this subject that seems to be pervasive throughout the healthcare community, one can imagine how we feel when we come across the pleas for help posted online by others with similar symptoms going undiagnosed. My suggestion to anyone experiencing unexplained itching, rashes, bumps, crawling or tickling on any part of the body, including the face, is to at least consider scabies. And if your doctor will not cooperate due to a lack of evidence implicating this culprit, find another doc who has more experience with these and other parasites.
Not everyone has the time, energy, resources, or patience to take tape samples, find a microscope, enlist the help of an expert, and visit multiple doctors. However, we're hoping that by sharing our story everyone, including those in the medical profession, might learn something from our experience.
Learn More About Scabies, Mites, and Parasites
You can read about effective treatments and possible side effects in another article I wrote: How Do You Know If Your Scabies Treatment Worked?.
Or, if you think you may be dealing with another type of mite infestation, please read the following article: Mites That Bite Humans: Bird and Rodent Mites.