The feeling of bugs or insects crawling under the skin can be disturbing. The feeling can be similar to tingling or pins and needles sensation. This condition is called formication (skin crawling) and there are many possible underlying cause why a person is experiencing it. Formication may be experienced due to high fever, syphilis, herpes foster, skin cancer, and side effect of medication or harmful drugs such as opium and cocaine.
A person who is stressed or anxious may also experience this weird sensation. Relieving anxiety or stress may help in managing the problem. However, a proper diagnosis is still required in order to determine the main cause of the skin crawling sensation.
Causes and Treatments for Skin Crawling
There are many causes that can trigger formication or the feeling of crawling skin. The most dangerous effect of this condition is scratching, as it may cause you to harm the skin when trying to get rid of the itchy sensation.
1. Morgellon’s Disease
A person with Morgellon’s disease may experience the sensation of bugs or insects biting, stinging, or crawling under the skin. It is an unexplained skin disorder characterized by sores and fiber-like filaments emerging from the sores.
While some medical experts suggest that this disease is a physical illness, others say that it is a delusional parasitosis as a person thinks that there are parasites under the skin. Other medical experts also refer to this condition as fiber disease. Some say that they are wisps of cotton thread, while others say the cause is an infectious process in the skin cells.
In addition to skin crawling, other signs and symptoms of Morgellons include:
- Red skin sores, intense itching
- Stinging or burning sensation
- Extreme fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping
- Joint and muscle pain
- Hair loss
- Difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss
According to studies, this condition mostly affects middle-aged white women, and most of them showed signs of somatic concerns or being very concerned about health problems. People who are using marijuana and anti-anxiety medications also have higher risk of developing Morgellons.
There is still no exact cure for this condition. Treating psychiatric or medical problem helps in alleviating the symptoms in some patients. It is also recommended that the patients should undergo psychiatric evaluation. The signs and symptoms can be distressing, and even if health professionals cannot agree the nature of the condition, a person with Morgellons disease deserves compassionate treatment.
- Look for a doctor who acknowledges your concerns, performs a thorough examination and provide treatment options.
- Consider other causes of your signs and symptoms. Your doctor may recommend treatment and may include long-term mental health therapy.
- Consider getting treatment for depression, anxiety, or other condition that have impact on your behavior or thinking.
2. Peripheral Neuropathy
The peripheral nervous system transfers information from the brain and spinal cord to other parts of the body. Peripheral neuropathy results from damage to the peripheral nerves. It leads to pain, weakness, burning, stabbing, tingling and numbness, commonly in feet and hands. It may also affect other areas of the body. This condition results from infections, metabolic issues, exposure to harmful toxins, inherited, and traumatic injuries.
The signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy depend on the affected nerves: motor nerves (control muscle movement), sensory nerves (receive sensation) and autonomic nerves (control functions like heart rate, digestion, bladder and blood pressure). The symptoms may include:
- Sharp, throbbing, jabbing, burning or freezing pain
- Numbness, tingling or pricking sensation in hands or feet. The sensation may spread to arms or legs
- Lack of coordination
- Muscle paralysis or weakness (motor nerves)
- Sensitivity to touch
These symptoms may develop if autonomic nerves are affected:
- Dizziness caused by changes in blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Heat intolerance
There are many causes that can lead to nerve damage or peripheral neuropathy. These conditions include:
- Vitamin B deficiencies, vitamin E and niacin – Lack of these essential vitamins can affect the health of your nerves.
- Bone marrow disorders – These may include lymphoma, amyloidosis, monoclonal gammopathies (abnormal protein in blood), and osteosclerotic myeloma (form of bone cancer).
- Exposure to toxins or poisons
- Alcoholism – Drinking too much alcohol or poor diet can lead to vitamin deficiencies
- Certain medications – medications such as chemotherapy may result to peripheral neuropathy
- Infections – These include bacterial and viral infections, such as hepatitis, shingles, Lyme disease, leprosy, HIV and diphtheria
- Pressure or trauma on the nerve
- Kidney problems, liver disease, hypothyroidism and connective tissue disorder
Complications of this condition may include loss of sensation, lack of balance and skin trauma. A person may not feel the change of temperature or injuries due to numbness and may result to infection. Your doctor will perform tests for proper diagnosis and treatment, including blood tests, imaging tests, nerve biopsy, skin biopsy and nerve function tests.
The treatment depends on the nerves affected and may include pain relievers, topical treatments, antidepressants and anti-seizure medications. Your doctor may also recommend therapies to alleviate the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, including:
- Physical therapy
- Plasma exchange and intravenous immune globulin
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve simulation
There are also other kinds of treatment to achieve relief for some people, such as herbs, amino acids, and acupuncture and alpha-lipoic acids.
Menopause marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle and it ends fertility. Skin crawling is one of the problems of women going through this process. This occurs in 40s or 50s. Women in menopause may also have difficulty sleeping, anxiety, sadness and low energy. Other signs and symptoms include:
- Irregular periods
- Mood swings
- Vaginal dryness
- Slow metabolism and weight gain
- Hot flashes
- Loss of breast fullness
- Night sweats
Women who are experiencing the sensation of bugs crawling under the skin may find relief by hormone replacement therapy. This provides artificial or natural replacement hormones. After menopause, your risk of some health conditions increases, such as cardiovascular disease, urinary incontinence, osteoporosis and weight gain. The desire for sexual activity is reduced and you may experience slight bleeding and discomfort during sexual intercourse due to vaginal dryness.
4. Herpes Zoster or Shingles
Singles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that leads to painful rash. This usually appears as a stripe of blisters wrapped around the right or left side of torso. It is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. If you’ve had chicken pox before, the virus is dormant in your nerve tissue and it becomes shingles when it becomes active again.
Even though shingles are not life.-threatening, it can be distressing and painful. The signs and symptoms of herpes zoster may include:
- Pain, burning, tingling or numbness sensation
- Sensitivity to touch
- Fluid-filled blisters that open
- Red rashes after few days
You may also experience fatigue, headache, fever and sensitivity to light. Some people may experience intense pain and it can be mistaken as a symptom of other health conditions. Some people do not develop rashes.
Seek medical attention right away if you suspect that you or someone you know has shingles, especially if the rashes or pain occur near the eyes, if the rashes are widespread, if you are 70 or above, or if you have weak immune system due to illnesses. This condition is contagious and the varicella-zoster virus can be transferred to anyone who is not yet immune.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection acquired from sexual contact. It usually starts as a painless sore on genitals, mouth or rectum. It can easily spread from one person to another through skin contact or mucous membrane contact. After the infection, the bacteria can become dormant in the body for years before it becomes active. Without proper treatment, it can damage the brain, heart, and other parts of the body. A pregnant woman can also transfer the bacteria to her unborn child.
Syphilis can also cause many problems in the nervous system, such as loss of sensation, visual problems, hearing loss, meningitis, stroke, bladder incontinence, lightning-like pains and impotence in men.
To diagnose syphilis, your doctor will perform blood tests or cerebral spinal fluid. It will be easy to cure this disease when diagnosed and treated early.
6. Skin Cancer
Skin cancer commonly develops on skin exposed to sunlight, but may also develop on areas of the skin that are not exposed to the sun. The three major types of cancer are: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.
- Signs of melanoma may include brownish spot with dark speckles, mole changes in size, color, or bleeds, lesions on palms, toes, or fingertips, mucous membranes lining your nose, mouth, anus or vagina.
- Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma may include flat, flesh-colored or brown lesion and waxy or pearly lump.
- Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma include flat lesion with crusted or scaly surface, firm and red nodule.
If you notice any changes in your skin, see a doctor immediately.
Other Causes of Skin Crawling
Other causes of skin crawling or formication include:
- Mercury poisoning
- Side effect of certain medications such as Adderall or Ritalin
- Stress and anxiety
If you suddenly experience skin crawling, here are some tips that you can do:
- Practice meditation or yoga to release stress or anxiousness.
- Eat healthy foods that have all the essential nutrients.
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
- Body massage to improve blood circulation.
- Always stretch your hands and legs.