At first, it's an itch that doesn't ever seem to abate. And just when you thought those marks were caused by your nails incessantly scratching that itchy skin, you realize to your horror that they actually look like tracks of small blisters, left behind by some mite burrowing its way under the skin. If this is the scenario then get yourself checked for scabies - the contagious skin infection that is caused due to the mite Sarcoptes scabiei.
This mite is an eight-legged parasite that feeds on human blood and breeds with the help of the warmth of the human body. Not even a millimeter in size (they are actually 1/3 millimeter long), this mite cannot survive for more than 2 to 3 days without a human host. However, do not let the fragile features of this little mite fool you. When it gets suitable environment, it can survive for about a month (in human body). It lays eggs under the skin that hatch and grow into adult mites. As the mite burrows under the skin it releases a substance that causes allergic reaction known as scabies rash. What is worse is that scratching the skin leads to secondary skin infection, most commonly impetigo caused by bacteria. In some cases, cellulitis skin infection may also occur.
The best thing to do when one has scabies is to visit a dermatologist. Prescription medication is the most effective among all the cures. 5% permethrin cream is a commonly prescribed scabicide. This is also safe for children who are 2 months of age or older. This cream should be applied all over the body and left for 10 to 12 hours. Hence, it is advisable to apply it before going to bed and then wash in the morning. The body should be dry and hands clean before applying the cream. This cream should be used at least for a week.
Lindane is another medication that may be applied neck down and then washed off after 8 hours. Since, lindane can cause seizures if absorbed through skin, it is not advisable for children, pregnant women, and lactating mothers. Lindane should be avoided in case the skin is irritated or wet, as in case of extensive skin disease, skin rashes, or right after bath. Lindane is not a recommended first line of treatment, therefore it should be used only after all other options have failed.
Other medicines include Ivermectin, an oral medication that also has toxic side effects. Less effective than permethrin, this medicine should be taken only when topical medications have failed. Crotamiton lotion 10% and cream 10% (Eurax, Crotan) is another drug that is recommended only for adults. Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine that provide relief from itching may also be applied. Also, consult your doctor before taking this medicine.
Meddling with prescription drugs on one's own is strongly not advisable. Here are a few herbal remedies to cure scabies at home:
- Make a paste of dried or fresh neem leaves with equal amounts of turmeric powder, mixed with mustard oil. Apply this on the body and take a bath after an hour. Continue this treatment for 7-10 days till the lesions have healed. Mustard oil present in the mixture may cause irritation in some cases, therefore a patch test is recommended before going for this home remedy. One may also drink a tablespoon of neem leaf or neem bark decoction.
- Make a mixture with 90 ml of witch hazel, and 10ml of tea tree oil and store it in a sterile container. Take a bath and pat dry the body properly. Now, apply this mixture liberally to the affected areas with a clean cotton swab. Repeat this twice every week, till the infection is cured.
- Many have reported relief from itching by adding oatmeal to the bath.
- Another popular remedy for itching is onion. Cut an onion into half, scoop out the center and fill it with sea salt. Once the sea salt dissolves, the liquid that remains in the onion should be applied on the affected areas.
- The antifungal and anti-bacterial properties of oil of margosa, a herb of Indian origin, helps to clear the scabies mites. This oil should be massaged on the affected areas so that it is absorbed by the skin.
- Aloe vera cream or lotion that is commercially available is also an effective natural cure for scabies.
Scabies is a contagious infection. The following steps can help prevent the spread of this infection and also the recurrence of the infection. These measures also aid the healing process:
- Vacuum bedding, rugs, furniture, and also interiors of the car thoroughly to remove mites from the surrounding.
- Clean bed sheets and clothes with bleach.
- Change blankets and hot dry pillows for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Dry clean things that can't be washed.
- Disinfect floor and bathroom.
- Fingernails must be cut and cleaned properly to remove mites or their eggs in them.
There are a number of cures for scabies. However, the best cure is cleanliness. A clean sanitized environment is the best way to fight them.