Image of the scabies mite under the microscope. Courtesy of Wikimedia user Kalumet.

Yes, mites can live in your skin and make you itch! In the case of the scabies mite (Sarcoptes scabiei), it makes you itch by burrowing into your skin, laying eggs, replicating, and pooping. Your body recognizes all this foreign material and releases compounds that lead to itch.

How do you get scabies? Well, you can get scabies through close proximity to someone else that has scabies. Risk of transmission is most significant with close contact (e.g. bed mates, etc.) Mites and eggs can stay alive and still be infectious for 1-2 days off of the skin (e.g. on clothing, linens, etc.).

Most people only have 10 or less mites on their body. Scratching causes some of the mites to fall off. Some folks who aren’t able to scratch and keep the number of mites in check end up with hundreds of scabies mites! Yikes! That’s a condition called crusted scabies or “Norwegian scabies.” The term Norwegian scabies has fallen out of favor since Norwegians aren’t more likely to get scabies to the best of my knowledge.

What should you do if you think you have scabies? Go see your doctor and let him/her know you’re concerned about scabies. Your doctor may scrape part of your skin to look for mites or their eggs or feces.

What does scabies look like? Scabies infestation can present as itchy bumps, water bubbles or burrows. Common areas include the web spaces between the fingers, the wrists, belly button, genital area, under the breasts, and armpits.

How is scabies treated? There are creams and also pills that treat scabies. Depending on your specific case, your doctor may prescribe one of these medications or both. Close contact should be examined and treated as well. Clothing and linen should be washed in hot water and dried on high heat (or alternatively, stored in an air tight container for more than 3 days). Your doctor can also recommend medications to help with the itch.

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