An expert’s guide on the causes, prevention and treatment for scabies

Reviewed by Dr. Niketa Sonavane

Dermatologist, Trichologist, Expert in Alternative Medicine | MBBS, MD

Written by Urvi DalalMay 03, 2021

Scabies is a very annoying and highly contagious skin condition that needs to be treated ASAP. The main cause of this skin condition is Sarcoptes scabiei, which is actually an eight-legged microscopic mite that leads to severe itchiness, rashes and constant skin irritation.

Since scabies is so highly contagious, it is best to have some information about the possible causes and treatments to be able to deal with it at the earliest. And that’s exactly what we are going to discuss in this article today. Also, to give you a better idea, we spoke to dermatologist and skin expert Dr. Niketa Sonavane from Ambrosia Aesthetics, Mumbai to help you understand the causes, symptoms and effective scabies treatments. Read on...

What are scabies?

As seen earlier, scabies are actually caused by a tiny mite. If you don’t do anything to treat these mites, then they could probably rest on your skin for months, reproduce and simply multiply, thereby increasing problems and discomfort.

The main problem with scabies is that it is extremely contagious. So say if a person already has scabies, then the chances of everyone in his/her family, office, class – basically everyone he is regularly in personal contact with, is most likely to get it. Which is why it is important to go to a doctor at the earliest in order to find the right treatment for scabies. This is also the reason that when a person visits a dermatologist for scabies treatment, the doctor also starts the treatment for other people he/she has been in contact with.

We know all of this sounds really scary, but trust us, once discovered, dealing with scabies is really not too much of a problem. The treatments available for scabies help in effectively treating it with a combination of ointments and oral supplements that help to not just kill the existing mites, but also eliminate the eggs completely.

What is the symptoms of scabies

Even though a person may come in contact with someone with scabies, he/she won’t start showing symptoms immediately. The amount of time it would take for the symptoms to show actually varies from person to person. It also depends on whether the person in question has ever been previously exposed to mites. But usually, in most cases, the symptoms start to show in about two to six weeks. But if the person has already come in contact with mites earlier, then their immune system reacts faster and the symptoms can show as quickly as one to four days.

1. Itching –

Persistent itching is usually one of the first and most common symptoms of scabies to show. Even though this itching is quite bad during the day, things generally tend to get a little worse and a lot more severe during the night. But it is better to be really careful when itching, because excessive itching could lead to an additional infestation and make the problem worse.

2. Rashes –

When these mites start burrowing (yes, these mites create a house and a breeding ground on your skin), they tend to form tracks, and lines, especially in the skin’s folds. Usually, these tracks look like a small insect bite, pimples, hives. In severe cases, it can develop scaly skin.

3. Sore skin –

All that severe itching is obviously going to damage your skin and some people start to develop sore skin and blisters that can be quite painful and can even bleed.

Additionally, scabies is also known to infest in certain areas of your body as compared to others. Areas such as your wrists, elbows, armpits, waist and buttocks are the most common breeding grounds so it would be better to keep an eye when recognizing symptoms.

What causes scabies?

Now that we know what exactly the symptoms of scabies look like, it is important to understand the causes. Since the size of the mites is so tiny, it is impossible to determine when or where exactly you got infested, but according to experts, these are some possibilities –

  1. Close physical contact
  2. Wearing infected clothes
  3. Sleeping on an infected bed and bedding
  4. Coming in contact with an infected piece of furniture

Once you come in contact with mites, they start to burrow on your skin, creating the perfect breeding ground. These mites thrive on your skin because the female mites lay eggs, which causes a reaction between your skin and their waste, leading to rashes and itches.

How to treat scabies?

As discussed earlier, the symptoms and causes of scabies sound really intimidating, but the good thing is that once you figure out that the problem, treating it isn’t really that difficult. With the help of creams, lotions and oral medicines, the doctor tries to eliminate the infestation of mites successfully.
Usually, the prescribed creams and ointments are supposed to be kept on the skin overnight for them to actually work and show desirable results. Here are the most common scabies treatments that your doctor is likely to recommend –

1. Permethrin cream –

This is the most common topical cream prescribed by most doctors as the first line of action. This is simply because of how safe it is to use by people of most ages, pregnant women, as well as babies over two months of age. Permethrin is so effective because it is formulated using certain chemicals that inhibit mites and their eggs successfully.

2. Ivermectin (Stromectol) –

This is usually the second line of action used by doctors in severe cases such as crusted scabies. This is an oral medication that is also usually prescribed for people with autoimmune disorders. Additionally, if your scabies doesn’t respond too well to the topical medications, then your doctor may suggest ivermectin. However, this medicine is not too suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women or on children who weigh under 15kgs.

3. Crotamiton (Eurax, Crotan) –

This is also another type of topical ointment, but it is not the most common or frequently suggested scabies treatment. But your doctor may still prescribe it in certain cases to be applied once a day for just two days. However, this treatment has not been proven to be completely safe on pregnant or nursing women, people over 65 years of age or small children. Additionally, this line of treatment doesn’t have a very high success rate.

FAQs about scabies

Q. How long does it take to treat scabies?

A. Once you start taking the medicines for scabies, most of the time, it is successful in killing the mites and eliminating the eggs in just a few days. However, other symptoms such as itching and rashes may take a couple of weeks to completely heal and subside.

Q. Can scabies go away without treatment?

A. This is an absolute myth and scabies do not go away on their own without treatment. As soon as you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is best to visit your dermatologist ASAP to and start on the prescribed medicines to be able to bring this problem under control and treat it.

Q. How to kill scabies from other surfaces such as clothes and furniture?

A. Scabies mites and eggs do not survive when exposed to very high heat. So, you could wash your clothes in your washing machine by soaking and rinsing them in piping hot water and drying it out thoroughly. You could even use rubbing alcohol on furniture, mattresses and other infected surfaces in your house.