The People's Perspective on Medicine

What Can I Do About the Itch of Scabies?

There are several treatments for the unbearable itch of scabies, but these mites are developing resistance. Could tea tree oil offer a new alternative?
Young woman allergy scratching her abdomen stomach with fingers isolated on a white background

You know what it’s like to have an itch, right? Sometimes for no reason at all your back itches. That’s when a friend or partner can come to your rescue. A mosquito bite can itch. So can poison ivy. As unpleasant as these skin irritations can be, they pale in comparison to the itch of scabies. A reader has a very short poignant question about this hard-to-treat condition.

Q. Is there any cure for scabies? It produces unbearable itching.

A. Scabies is caused by the “itch mite,” Sarcoptes scabiei. Three hundred million people around the world are infected each year. Scabies spreads through skin-to-skin human contact.

These tiny parasites burrow into the top layer of the skin. Their saliva causes intense itching that gets worse at night. It often causes a rash, especially around the belt line or at wrists, elbows and armpits.

To cure scabies, doctors prescribe medications that will kill the mite. There are several options.

Permethrin for the Itch of Scabies?

Permethrin, the same insecticide that is commonly used against lice, is applied as a cream against scabies. A good friend was prescribed this scabicide for his unbearable itch. It helped a bit for a short amount of time. Then the itching resumed with a vengeance.

Ivermectin:

Next, he got an oral dose of ivermectin. Doctors also prescribe this anti-parasitic medication for scabies, although the FDA has not approved it for this use. It took two courses to overcome the infestation. Side effects of ivermectin include dizziness, digestive upset, fatigue, skin rash and itching. Serious reactions include changes in heart rhythm and eye inflammation.

In some places, itch mites are developing resistance to both of these standard treatments (American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Feb. 2016). 

Other Drugs vs. the Itch of Scabies:

Doctors sometimes prescribe other drugs that kill the scabies mite such as lindane, malathion or crotamiton, but resistance is becoming a problem for these as well. These medicines are applied to the skin. Crotamiton, for example, is applied to the entire body, left on for 24 hours and re-applied. During the treatment period, the patient should not shower or bathe.

Tea Tree Oil?

Australian researchers are studying the potential of topical tea tree oil as an additional approach (American Journal of Tropical Hygiene, Feb. 2016).  They are currently conducting a randomized controlled trial comparing tea tree oil to permethrin as an active control (BMJ Open, May 31, 2018). 

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    Go to the CDC website, and follow the directions. If you have an environmental mite you have to get your house professionally treated.

    Home remedy recommendations are not only ineffective, but it is completely irresponsible to the community to try them or promote them. They do not work, period, end of story.

    Mite attraction is an immune system problem. Sunlight, water, fruits and veggies, sleep, probiotics, exercise. Sunlight is essential. Download the dminder app.

    Get rid of as many mites as you can. Your immune system has to do the rest.

    Kwell is no longer used because people were found dead in their homes with it all over their bodies. It is called Lindane. The current treatments for scabies or environmental mites include permethrin, malathion, benzyl benzoate, and crotamiton.

    If mites are a concern for you, please go to the CDC website, and Contact your local extension service office to try to understand how to deal with environmental might if your problem appears to be severe and widespread, without crusting.

    If you are NOT allergic to sulfur, then pure sulfur powder works great. Sulfur soap and shampoo also work, they just take longer.

    James Herriot mentions sulfur shampoo powders to treat mange (scabies) in one of his veterinarian stories.

    I got scabies at a care-taking job and had no insurance. Sulfur powder cleared it up in a few days.

    Years ago I found that getting a few thumb-sized branches of red alder, stripping the bark and boiling it and then pouring on after it cools, killed the scabies. I usually made enough for 2 or 3 days of treatment. It also smells nice. One drawback is that it can stain the tub or shower so must be rinsed off right away.

    I treated some really itchy skin of unknown aetiology with tea tree oil. Six days of twice daily topical applications of tea tree oil caused me a severe delayed hypersensitivity allergic reaction with necrosis of the skin. This led to a blood stream infection. Topical tea tree oil may be worse than scabies.

    My first job was in a furniture upholstery company. My main duty was to strip the old material off so it could be recovered. We got some pretty filthy furniture. I got scabies, not once, but twice. My doctor prescribed Kwel lotion to combat this very aggravating malady. Within a few days it was nothing but a memory.

    I see Ivermectin as an option with a series of serious complications and think of how this is a popular med for our beloved pets on a monthly basis….yikes.

    * Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^