Skin Mites Linked to Scabies, Rosacea, and Blepharitis

Updated on January 29, 2018
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with a first class honors degree in biology. She often writes about the scientific basis of disease.

Sarcoptes scabiei is the mite that causes scabies.
Sarcoptes scabiei is the mite that causes scabies. | Source

Skin Mite Problems

Skin mites are tiny creatures that live under our skin and in our hair follicles and oil glands. Scabies or itch mites tunnel into the skin and cause the disease known as scabies. Demodex mites infect the hair follicles or the oil glands next to the hair follicles. They may be harmless, but there is a growing suspicion that they are responsible for at least some cases of rosacea and blepharitis.

The main symptoms of scabies are an intense itch and the appearance of a red rash in the infected area. Rosacea is a condition in which the facial skin becomes chronically reddened. Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelid. Pinpointing mites as a cause of rosacea and blepharitis could pave the way for more effective treatments for the disorders, since some medications kill skin mites.

A giant red velvet mite in Africa; the body appears to have one section, unlike a spider's body, which has two sections
A giant red velvet mite in Africa; the body appears to have one section, unlike a spider's body, which has two sections | Source

Anyone who suspects that they have scabies, rosacea, or blepharitis should visit a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

What Are Mites?

Mites are small creatures. Many are microscopic. They are members of the phylum Arthropoda and the class Arachnida, which is the class to which spiders belong. Mites and spiders are classified in different orders within the class Arachnida, however.

As in spiders, the body of a mite consists of a cephalothorax followed by an abdomen. In mites the two body sections are fused together and look like one structure, while in spiders the sections are connected by a stalk-like structure called a pedicel.

Like spiders, adult mites have a tough outer layer called an exoskeleton, or cuticle, as well as four pairs of legs. There are two pairs of appendages around the mouth—the chelicerae, or jaws, and the pedipalps, which are sensory structures.

Several mites attack the human body. Only the scabies and Demodex mites are referred to as "skin mites", however. They make their home in our skin, unlike other mites which attach to the skin temporarily.

In spiders, the cephalothorax (2) and abdomen (3) are distinct and are connected by a narrow pedicel.
In spiders, the cephalothorax (2) and abdomen (3) are distinct and are connected by a narrow pedicel. | Source

Scabies or Itch Mites

The scabies mite, or Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis, is a human parasite. The female mite has an oval shape and is about 0.4 mm long. Several long hairs extend from her body. Her legs are short and thick and she has no eyes. The male scabies mite is half the female's size.

The female burrows into human skin to lay her eggs, forming a tunnel just below the surface of the skin. As she digs, the mite feeds on cells and fluids released from damaged cells. Her body has short spines that help her attach to the wall of the skin tunnel.

A Living Scabies Mite

Transmission

A person picks up scabies mites by prolonged and direct contact with the skin of an infected person. The mites can't jump or fly, so they must crawl from one host to another. Scabies mites may occasionally be transmitted by a contaminated object. They live for only 24 to 36 hours when they are outside the human body, however.

People of all socioeconomic backgrounds develop scabies. The infection isn't related to bad hygiene practices, so nobody should feel embarrassed about developing the disease.

What Does a Scabies Infection Look Like?

Life Cycle of the Itch Mite

Like other mites, the scabies or itch mite has four stages in its life cycle—the egg, the larva, one or more nymph stages, and the adult. The steps in the life cycle are as follows.

  • The female mite deposits her eggs as she excavates her tunnel with her mouth parts and her front legs.
  • The eggs hatch into larvae two to four days after being laid.
  • Each larva travels to the surface of the skin and then creates its own burrow known as a molting pouch. Here the larva molts and goes through its nymphal stages before becoming an adult.
  • A newly-formed adult male moves to the surface and enters a female's molting pouch, where he fertilizes her.
  • Fertilized females travel over the surface of the skin until they find a new place to burrow or a new person to infect. A female can live for one to two months.

The scabies mite is also known as the itch mite because it causes severe itching. This itching is thought to be produced by an allergic reaction to the mite's eggs, feces, or saliva. The mite also produces a rash made of red pimples. Its tunnel sometimes forms a visible line on the skin.

Doctors can not only diagnose the presence of scabies but can also prescribe a medication to kill the mites that cause the disease. The medication is generally given in the form of a cream or lotion that is spread over the skin.

Demodex (species unknown) as seen under a scanning electron microscope
Demodex (species unknown) as seen under a scanning electron microscope | Source

Demodex Mites

The Demodex mite is an elongated animal that has a worm-like body. It has eight, very short legs attached to the front of its body. Two species of Demodex may inhabit human skin. Demodex folliculorum lives in our hair follicles, including the ones that produce our eyelashes. This mite is up to 0.4 mm long. Demodex brevis lives in the sebaceous glands (or oil glands) that are located next to the hair follicles. It's only about 0.2 mm long. The mites are most common in facial skin but may be found on other areas of the body, too.

Unlike the scabies mite, Demodex forms a permanent relationship with humans that may not be harmful. It's often considered to be a normal inhabitant of our skin, just like the many bacteria that cover our body surface. In this case Demodex is involved in a commensal relationship with us instead of a parasitic one. In commensalism, one organism benefits from the relationship and the other is unaffected.

Demodex folliculorum Inside a Hair Follicle

Many researchers say that between 20% to 80% of us have Demodex mites in our skin. The percentage depends on the population that's tested and is highest in elderly people. Some researchers say that 100% of people over the age of ninety are infected by the mites.

Demodex Life Cycle

Demodex mites are transmitted from person to person by skin contact. Like scabies mites, Demodex mites crawl but can't jump or fly. They feed on cells within a hair follicle or on oil within a sebaceous gland.

The life cycle of Demodex folliculorum takes around 18 to 24 days to complete. The male and female mites emerge from their burrows at night and mate on the surface of the skin. They avoid exposure to light. After mating, the female returns to a follicle and lays 20 to 25 eggs. The eggs, larvae, nymphs, and new adults develop inside the follicle.

Photos and Videos of Demodex folliculorum

Demodicosis

In some animals the number of Demodex mites greatly increases under certain circumstances and the mite becomes a parasite. For example, Demodex canis is a normal inhabitant of dog hair follicles. As in our body, Demodex mites in dogs generally cause no problems. The mite population sometimes grows out of control and causes a skin disorder called canine demodicosis, demodectic mange, or red mange, however. In this disorder, hair is lost from the skin and the dog develops bald patches.

Demodex may become a problem in dogs when the animal's immune system isn't working properly, when the dog is experiencing malnutrition, or when it's subjected to stress of some kind. There are treatments for the condition. While symptoms of demodectic mange are generally restricted to the skin, they may spread beyond the skin. Very occasionally, they may be life-threatening.

Demodex numbers sometimes increase in humans, too. The increase has been implicated in a variety of disorders, but researchers haven't yet proved that the mites can cause disease in humans. There is a possibility that they can trigger rosacea and blepharitis.

A Living Demodex Mite From a Dog

Rosacea

Rosacea is a disorder in which redness develops on the cheeks, nose, forehead, and/or chin. Blood vessels may be visible in the reddened area. Red pimples or bumps may be present as well. Someone with rosacea may also have dry skin that is easily irritated and a burning sensation in their eyes.

In severe cases of the disease, the nose may enlarge and become bulbous and red. This condition is called rhinophyma. W.C. Fields, a U.S. actor and comedian, is a famous example of a person who suffered from rosacea with rhinophyma. Fields died in 1946. Today surgery can remove the excess tissue from the nose.

The cause of rosacea isn't known for certain, which is frustrating for patients. There may be more than one cause of the disease. The disorder can be both uncomfortable and embarrassing. Some patients discover that certain factors make their rosacea worse. These factors include sun exposure, alcohol intake, and prolonged stress. Avoiding these triggers may improve the condition of the skin. Medications prescribed by a doctor may also help.

According to the NIH or National Institues of Health, rosacea is most common in women (especially during menopause), people between the ages of 30 and 60, and those with fair skin.

An Eye Doctor Discusses Rosacea and Associated Blepharitis

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids. The name of the disorder is derived from "blepharon", the Ancient Greek word for eyelid, and "itis", a suffix which means inflammation.

In blepharitis, the eyelids become red and itchy and may also become swollen, scaly, or crusty. Sufferers may find that their eyelids are sticky and that it's hard to open their eyes when they wake after sleeping. If a crust forms and enters the eyes, the eyes may feel gritty. Most symptoms develop next to the eyelashes.

Blepharitis is a common disorder. There are several factors which have been linked to the disorder, including a malfunctioning of the oil glands in the eyelids, the presence of bacteria, the existence of rosacea, and an allergic reaction.

Blepharitis and Its Treatment

Can Demodex Mites Cause Rosacea and Blepharitis?

Researchers have noticed that the number of Demodex mites is significantly increased in at least some cases of rosacea and blepharitis. There's a saying in biology that "correlation is not causation", however. We can't be certain that the increase in the number of mites is causing either rosacea or blepharitis. Instead, the two disorders may be producing conditions that favor an increase in the mite population. The rise in mite numbers may be a consequence of the disorders instead of the cause.

Nevertheless, researchers in the skin disease area are excited by the possibility that mites can cause rosacea and blepharitis and think that this relationship is a distinct possibility. Some clinicians are already finding that in certain cases giving patients medications that kill mites relieves them of their skin problem.

Some researchers use the term "Demodex dermatitis" to refer to a rosacea-like condition thought to be caused by mites. These researchers distinguish the redness caused by mites from the rosacea resulting from other causes.

Skin Mite Feces and Rosacea

Researchers at the Bayer College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, say that they have found bacteria in Demodex feces that trigger an immune reaction in humans. According to the researchers, this immune reaction is responsible for the inflammation and discomfort in at least some cases of rosacea.

Rosacea flares up under certain conditions, such as after sun exposure or exposure to humid conditions. The researchers suggest that this happens because the conditions promote mite activity.

Antibiotics are sometimes used to treat rosacea because they can reduce inflammation. Interestingly, corticosteroids, which also reduce inflammation, don't appear to help the disorder. The Bayer College scientists say that the antibiotics may work because they kill bacteria deposited by skin mites.

Other researchers have also suggested that bacteria from Demodex can have ill effects. They say these bacteria may enter our body from mite secretions or feces or from the decomposing bodies of dead mites.

An Eye Doctor Discusses Demodex and Blepharitis

Demodex and Human Disease

Scientists know that Demodex mites live in human skin, including the skin at the base of the eyelashes. They also know that the number of mites increases under certain conditions.

An increase in the Demodex population causes disease in other mammals, such as dogs. It therefore seems possible that the mites might cause disease in humans, too. This won't be known for certain until more research is done, though. Hopefully the situation will be clarified soon. If researchers discover that the mites can cause human diseases, they may then be able to find new and perhaps better treatments for these diseases. Fortunately, doctors already have ways to help people with rosacea or blepharitis as well as people with scabies.

References

Scabies information from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

National Rosacea Society in the United States

Blepharitis facts from the Mayo Clinic

Demodex mites and rosacea facts from WebMD

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Linda Crampton

    Comments

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      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Taranwanderer. Thank you once again for commenting! The cause of rosacea isn't known. The main theories are the presence of skin mites or certain skin bacteria, the presence of Helicobacter pylori in the digestive tract, an increased level of a specific protein in the skin and blood vessel abnormalities. There may be a genetic component, too. The immune system may be indirectly involved by overreacting to a stimulus, but this isn't known for certain yet. Rosacea can be a frustrating disorder!

      • Taranwanderer profile image

        Taranwanderer 

        2 years ago

        Wow - I always though Rosacea was a purely genetic condition based on autoimmune functions or something like that. I'm not a biologist though so I could be wrong. Nonetheless, you learn something every day thanks to comprehensive hubs such as yours. Awesome!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the comment, Thelma. I'm sorry that you're allergic to skin mites. They would be very irritating for you!

      • Thelma Alberts profile image

        Thelma Alberts 

        2 years ago from Germany

        Congrats on the HOTD! I am allergic to mites. Thanks for these loads of informations. Well done!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks, Kristen. I appreciate your kind comment!

      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 

        2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Linda, congrats on another HOTD! Icky subject matter though. You've tackled it well. Very informative and interesting to say the least.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the comment and for sharing your experience and the helpful advice, Jodah. I appreciate your visit.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you, Flourish. Scabies and skin mites are interesting topics, but they definitely include an "ewww" factor!

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        2 years ago from Queensland Australia

        This is a very interesting and informative hub Alicia. I have had scabies and I can confirm that it is a terribly irritating condition, The itch is so bad it keeps you awake at night and scratching doesn't ease it. Fortunately the cream prescribed works well however it is very expensive and you have to be very thorough in using it until the mites are completely gone.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 years ago from USA

        Congratulations on HOTD. Ewww, just ewww. Well deserved.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the second visit, Peg. I appreciate both the visit and the comment!

      • PegCole17 profile image

        Peg Cole 

        2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

        I came back to watch the other videos on this fascinating article. The one from the eye doctor was really interesting.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Connie. I'm a teacher and a science writer, not a doctor, so I can't give medical advice to people. I definitely think that you should visit a doctor again and tell him or her that your problem began with a dog bite, though, if you haven't already done so. You have a mystery that needs to be solved! Best of luck.

      • profile image

        Connie 

        3 years ago

        Hi

        I was bit by my new dog about 7 months ago and since then I have had bumps and redness on my cheeks that appear to be rosacea. This article leads me to believe my dog could have transferred mites. Sometimes it feels if something is crawling under my skin . Prior to the nite my skin was flawless. Never had acne. Dermatoligist prescribed cortisone which did not help. Perhaps I should go to another dermatologist and suggest anti bacteria meds for mites. I am so self conscious. Help. thanks

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you so much for the kind comment, techygran. I hope you find the videos interesting when you are ready to watch them!

      • techygran profile image

        Cynthia 

        3 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

        Hi AliciaC- this is an excellent hub, detailed, and with information I have never run across before. I'm gearing up to watch the videos. Thank you for this contribution to my late life science education!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, FlourishAnyway. Mites in the skin is a creepy topic! Thank you for the comment and for describing how you got rid of scabies in your daughter.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 years ago from USA

        Linda, this is a terrific hub with detailed, well researched information on a pretty creepy topic. I am itching already, wondering whether I need to be sitting in public movie theaters or other such places where creepy crawlers might jump on me. Yikes. When my daughter was very young, a case of scabies went through her day care and most of them got it. Pyromethin cream from the dertmatologist got rid of it but it was enough to yuck me out.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Martie. "Eerie" is a good word to describe skin mites! It is very strange to think about the mites living in our skin. Thank you for the visit and the comment.

      • MartieCoetser profile image

        Martie Coetser 

        4 years ago from South Africa

        Oh my gosh, Alicia, this is so creepy. Now I am itching all over and need a shower at once.

        Fascinating and well-presented, but extremely eerie, information about skin mites....

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you so much for the comment, Deb! I appreciate your visit.

      • aviannovice profile image

        Deb Hirt 

        4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

        As always, great material, Alicia. You are a wealth of knowledge, and I have learned so much from you..

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the lovely comment, CraftytotheCore! I appreciate it very much.

      • CraftytotheCore profile image

        CraftytotheCore 

        4 years ago

        This is an excellent Hub. I love the photos, but the information overall is wonderful! You put a lot of time and effort in to this and it really shows. Great job! I had no idea about any of this. I enjoyed learning about this.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you for the comment and the votes, DDE!

      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 

        4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

        Skin Mites Linked to Scabies, Rosacea and Blepharitis sounds troublesome issue you have created a well informed hub on this topic and is definitely a useful hub. Voted up and useful.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much, Sue. I appreciate the vote and the pin!

      • Sue Bailey profile image

        Susan Bailey 

        4 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

        Very interesting Alicia. Voted up and pinned.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, drbj. Yes, reading about skin mites sometimes produces that effect! They are interesting creatures, though. Thank you for the comment.

      • drbj profile image

        drbj and sherry 

        4 years ago from south Florida

        Fascinating and interesting exposition, Alicia, about creepy little mites and the diseases they cause humans. But now I am suffering from the most intense itching ... all over!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Bill. I appreciate your comment. Skin mites do have a creepy aspect to them! Thanks for the vote and the shares.

      • bdegiulio profile image

        Bill De Giulio 

        4 years ago from Massachusetts

        Very interesting Linda. Also a little creepy knowing these things could be crawling under our skin. Fascinating video of these critters. As always I've learned a few new things today, thank you. Voted up, shared, pinned, etc...

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Cynthia. Thanks for the comment. Yes, most of us probably do have mites in our skin or around our eyelashes! It's very interesting to think about all the creatures that share our body with us.

      • CMHypno profile image

        CMHypno 

        4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

        Fascinating stuff as always Alicia. Rosacea is such a distressing condition for sufferers, so any progress towards an effective treatment is to be welcomed. Funny how we are all so squeamish about things like mites, when. as your article states, most of us probably have them but just don't realise

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the votes, the share and the blessings, Faith! I don't think that many dermatologists would consider mites as a cause of rosacea yet. This may change in the future, though, as more evidence is obtained. I hope some significant discoveries are made soon. Rosacea is very unpleasant, especially when it's severe.

      • Faith Reaper profile image

        Faith Reaper 

        4 years ago from southern USA

        Some of my family have rosacea; however, the dermatologist, of course, has never mentioned anything about skin mites! Now that does creep me out. I have never heard of the eye condition, blepharitis. You have written another fascinating and insightful hub here of these skin conditions. I could not bring myself to watch the videos as I know I would be creeped out, but it is good you have included them here of course.

        Up and more and sharing

        Blessings, Faith Reaper

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much, Bill! I appreciate your kind comment.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 years ago from Olympia, WA

        I always learn the most interesting facts from you, Alicia, and you manage to teach me about a complicated topic in a simple way. Well done again.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for the visit and the comment, Peg. The videos that show the living mites are kind of creepy! Good luck with getting rid of your blepharitis.

      • PegCole17 profile image

        Peg Cole 

        4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

        Fascinating study of these two skin conditions. Recently my eye doctor told me the itchy eyes and crusty scales I often found on my eyes in the morning were not pink eye as I had feared, but blepharitis. I wondered what caused it. Thanks for the detailed explanation. I even watched the first video without getting too creeped out.

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