Scabies is caused by a tiny mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. A scabies infection is transmitted either person to person or by contact with contaminated bedding or clothing. The mite burrows under your skin to lay its eggs. The incubation time between infection and appearance of symptoms can be as long as two months, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Scabies is highly contagious and you should see a doctor if you suspect you have scabies.
Scabies usually causes itching in areas infected with mites. Because the itching is often intense, it can affect a person's ability to sleep at night. Areas most affected include hands, wrists, elbows, armpits and other warm areas that attract the mites. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the itching is caused by an allergic reaction to proteins on the mites and their feces.
Soaps and creams containing sulfur have been used for centuries to kill the scabies mite. Most over-the-counter products contain between 6 and 10 percent sulfur. However, sulfur only kills adult mites but not eggs so you need to use the soap or cream for several weeks to eradicate the infection. Sulfur is generally safe though it can produce dry skin. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sulfur cream and crotamiton cream in infants suffering from scabies.
Tea Tree Oil Treatment
Tea tree oil is used in aboriginal medicine for treatment of cuts, bruises and various infections. It is also a traditional treatment for parasitic infections including scabies. Tea tree oil contains a compound called terpenin-4-ol that is thought to kill both the adult mites and their eggs. It is soothing and may relieve irritation and inflammation from the infection. Use it full-strength by applying the oil directly to the affected areas of skin, according to Helium. Alternatively, add 10 to 20 drops of the oil to bathwater. Tea tree oil is available at most natural product or health stores. Some people may experience an allergic reaction, so discontinue if any skin irritation appears. Do not take tea tree oil internally; it is toxic if swallowed. Also, there is not scientific evidence that the oil works against scabies.
Several remedies for scabies are effective and require a prescription. These include 5 percent permethrin cream applied at bedtime everywhere except the head and left on overnight, followed by bathing the next morning. This treatment may be repeated a week later. Sometimes, a lotion containing 1 percent lindane is used in a similar manner, but lindane is not recommended for infants, children or people with neurological conditions.
Everyone exposed to scabies should be treated whether or not they have symptoms. In addition, it is imperative to eradicate the mites from the environment. Wash clothing or bedding in very hot water or leave it in a dryer on high for 30 minutes. Vacuum carpets and upholstery thoroughly. Seal any other exposed to mites in a plastic bag for two weeks. Mites can't survive under these conditions without a food source.
Joanne Marie began writing professionally in 1981. Her work has appeared in health, medical and scientific publications such as Endocrinology and Journal of Cell Biology. She has also published in hobbyist offerings such as The Hobstarand The Bagpiper. Marie is a certified master gardener and has a Ph.D. in anatomy from Temple University School of Medicine.