“Bites” – Itching – Skin Irritations: Keep an Open Mind

Some people encounter “bites,” itching, or skin irritations thought to be caused by insects but no insects can be identified. These are tough situations and I have a great deal of empathy for people desperately trying to identify the causes.

Illusory parasitosis is one name used to describe bite-like symptoms caused by non-animal environmental factors. There is a long list of potential causes for “biting” sensations or skin irritation not caused by insects. The cause may be physical, physiological, psychological or combinations of these factors.

Physical factors may include dry air; static electricity; household or personal products like disinfectants, detergents, cosmetics, or jewelry. Environmental pollutants also may cause skin irritation. These pollutants include microscopic fibers like fiberglass or paper splinters. In addition, indoor air pollution can cause “sick or tight-building syndrome.” Other factors, like allergies and changes in our skin and general health as we age can cause bite-like symptoms.

Scabies Mite

Scabies is very contagious. It spreads rapidly under crowded conditions, especially where there is frequent skin-to-skin contact between people, such as in hospitals, institutions, child-care facilities, and nursing homes.

Delusory parasitosis is “an erroneous, unshakable belief that the skin is infested with some parasite.”  A woman contacted our office to report she was being infested with every parasite she saw on the “Monsters Inside Me” television show. She was a regular viewer of the program and unfortunately, decided to self-medicate herself. She had routinely been applying harsh pesticides and household chemicals like bleach directly to her body. In addition to treating her body, she was using pesticides in her home. She was miserable and had caused a lot of irritation to her body trying to self-treat for pests that she didn’t have. After visiting with her for some time, she finally shared she was having some issue with medications she had been taking so I referred her back to her physician.

Are there pests who cause biting sensations? You bet! But, we can see them with or without a microscope. Did you know the only mites that infest humans are called scabies mites (image right). These mites are found on the hands, wrists, feet, ankles, and elbows and are often a problem with older sedentary persons. Scabies mite infestations must be identified and treated by a dermatologist who prescribes medicated ointment and lotion.

At the extension office, we can help you identify other possible pests (with the exception of scabies). If you bring in a sample, I’ll let you know if it is a pest or not. If it is not a pest and you are having biting sensations or skin irritations, plan to visit with your physician or medical professional. We don’t identify pests from “bites” since it is nearly impossible to tell what is biting you from a bite. You will need to have a physical sample of a pest.

The basic message here is “Keep an Open Mind”. What you are feeling, may not be an insect, parasite or mite. It will take some detective work to figure out the cause of the bite-like symptoms but it is best to not rule out anything. If you have a mental or medical condition, focusing on pests as the only cause could harm your overall health. Make sure you check with your physician, dermatologist or other medical professional. Review any medications or “self-treatments” you’ve been using with your health care professional.

If a pest hasn’t been positively identified in your home, do not spray any pesticides “just in case”. Please do not risk your health by applying pesticides or household chemicals directly to your body. Use only non-toxic techniques (vacuuming, laundry, decluttering, exclusion, sticky boards for capturing pests) until a pest can be identified. In the event a pest isn’t the cause of the problem, these non-toxic practices won’t harm you or your family.

For more information from Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County:

Have a great day!!


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