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"Parasitosis refers to the belief that you feel a sensation on the skin such as a parasite or insect crawling on, or burrowing into it, when in reality it is not really happening. These perceptions are referred to as delusory parasitosis. Delusory refers to a belief with evidence to the contrary(The mind makes delusions of a parasite on your skin). Since these symptoms are usually not life threatening or obscure, physicians tend to address the symptoms instead of the underlying cause of the condition. Many people with this problem have an obsessive personality. Often, the patient with the problem has had an insect infestation and professional treatment, which triggers the longer term belief that the problem still exists when it fact the insects are no longer in the home or apartment. The insecticides themselves could trigger skin irritation that lasts after an insect problem has been removed."  


Almost everyone experiences some type of parasitosis as some point. The problem is that this belief causes individuals to call pest control professionals, even though an insect problem does not exist.   This is not to say there isn't some other physiological or physical cause as described below.

Often when a complaint of skin itch is received, an exterminator will look for the most common causes which includes fleas, head lice, ticks, bat bugs, bed bugs and mosquitoes. All of these insects are visible to the eye. One microscopic insect based cause could be mites, which are often brought into the home from birds, rodents or pets. Mites result in a condition called scabies, which often causes skin irritation on the wrists, ankles, feet and hands.

For this reason, often, a physician will diagnose scabies, when in fact they are suffering from another cause or delusional parasitosis. Sometimes a physician or dermatologist prescribes medications for symptoms such as skin itch, they will have a placebo effect, meaning that the patient will feel better, based on the knowledge that they are taking something for their problem.

Parasitosis is more common in women, older people or after someone quits their job. Common symptoms include itch and a biting sensation.

People that have this condition will often aggressively address the problem by digging blackheads out of their skin, or hair follicles or where ever else the problem is perceived to be occurring.

Physical Causes of Delusional Parasitosis

Individuals with sensitive skin could react to physical things in their environment that they don't know are there. There are causes such as static electricity which can be interpreted as this problem, when in fact there is a physical cause. Some chemicals found in insecticides (pyrethroids) can also be the cause of skin irritation. Other possible causes include fiberglass filaments, paper shards, and building material chemicals such as fumes from carpet or paneling.

In most people, they scratch the skin and the problem is gone. Others focus on the itch and become fixated.

In rare cases, exposure to dry air or water can cause skin itch.

Skin scratching itself can result in the eruption of skin blisters and scabs. As outside objects such as hair and cloth fibers get caught in the scabs, it could be mistaken for mites or even worms (look like pulled out hair follicles).

Physiological Causes

There are other possible explanations for this condition that have to do with the condition of the body. For example, allergy (food, skin, to cloth), nutrition, drug reactions, and certain medical conditions can result in skin sensations. There are over 100 medical causes of human skin itch such as:

  • Bacterial Infection
  • Fungal Infection
  • Viruses
  • Nematodes (roundworms, hookworms, pinworms)
  • anemia
  • autoimmune disease
  • depression
  • diabetes
  • liver disease
  • menopause
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • stress
  • uremia -urinary waste in the blood

Age related neurological degenerative problems can also cause sensations in the limbs. Many medications list hives and itch as potential side effects. In fact, the 50 most prescribed medications list many of the symptoms of delusory parasitosis as side effects. Medications prescribed to older individuals can also be a cause, particularly those prescribed such as insulin, and arthritis medications.

Nutritional supplements and herbal remedies can also cause skin sensations. Recreational drugs such as hallucinogens and methamphetamines can also be the cause.

Other physiological causes include normal scratching and itching. This behavior, particularly as a reaction to stress, tension, anxiety and being tired can result in constant itching and touching of the skin. In some cases, individuals that live alone fixate on their life and circumstance, including health.

Interestingly, groupthink can result in skin itch. One person scratching is often imitated by others complaining of the same problem.

Exterminators and Delusory Parasitosis

To avoid these cases, an exterminator will look for physical proof, in this case a captured insect, that there is a bed bug or other infestation in a home. Often a trap such as Climbup Interceptors are used to trap any bed bugs in the home. Sticky traps can also be of help for other insects.

For more information on exterminators and local pest control resources, visit this page

What To Do If You Have Skin Itch

First determine if there is any new cause that was introduced into your home or that may have come in contact with your skin. This includes physical causes such as new air conditioning or heating systems, new carpets (let off fumes and fibers) and humidifiers. Other causes include medications, shampoos, lotion or detergents.

Frequent use of pesticides in an apartment can be in and of themselves a cause of skin itch and irritation.

The bottom line is that you should not treat for any insect problem until an insect has been captured and identified. Until then other causes of of body itch should be reviewed. If the problem is due to delusory parasitosis, it usually takes a coordinated effort between an entomologist (insect expert), dermatologist (skin doctor) and psychiatrist. The prognosis or outcome of the condition depends on the cause of the condition and other psychological factors.


Delusory Parasitosis
Hinkle, Nancy, C.

Illusory and Delusory Parasitosis
University of Nebraska Lincoln, Ogg, Barb PHD Extension Educator

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