How Do You Tell If It’s Scabies Or Something Else?

Have you been experiencing intense itching and a rash on your skin lately? If so, you might be wondering whether it’s scabies or something else altogether. Identifying the cause of these symptoms can be tricky, but there are a few key indicators to be on the lookout for. In this article, we’ll explore the distinguishing factors of scabies and how you can differentiate it from other skin conditions. So, if you’re ready to find out whether you’re dealing with scabies or something else entirely, let’s get started!

Symptoms of Scabies

Intense itching

One of the most common symptoms of scabies is intense itching. This itching can be so severe that it can interfere with your daily activities and make it difficult to focus on anything else. The itching is often worse at night and can be especially intense in areas where the mites have burrowed into the skin.


Another symptom of scabies is the development of a rash. This rash can appear as small, red bumps or as raised, blistery areas on the skin. The rash is often accompanied by intense itching and can be found in various parts of the body, including the hands, wrists, elbows, armpits, genitals, buttocks, and feet.

Sores or blisters

In some cases, scabies can lead to the formation of sores or blisters on the skin. These sores or blisters may be a result of scratching the itchy areas, which can cause the skin to break and become infected. It is crucial to avoid scratching the affected areas to prevent further complications.

Distinguishing Scabies from Other Skin Conditions


Eczema is a common skin condition that can sometimes be mistaken for scabies. However, there are some key differences between the two. While both conditions can cause intense itching and a rash, eczema typically appears in patches on the skin and is not usually accompanied by the presence of burrows or mites. Additionally, eczema tends to be more chronic and can persist for long periods, while scabies can be treated and resolve with proper care.

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Psoriasis is another skin condition that can resemble scabies. Both conditions can cause red, itchy patches of skin, but there are some distinguishing factors. Psoriasis often has a scalier appearance compared to scabies and can affect larger areas of the body, including the scalp, nails, and joints. Unlike scabies, psoriasis is not caused by mites.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a skin reaction caused by coming into contact with an irritant or allergen. It can produce symptoms similar to scabies, such as itching and a rash. However, contact dermatitis is usually localized to the area where the skin was in contact with the irritant or allergen, whereas scabies can affect multiple areas of the body. Additionally, contact dermatitis is not caused by mites.


Physical examination

To diagnose scabies, a healthcare provider will typically begin with a physical examination of your skin. They will look for the characteristic signs of scabies, such as burrows, rash, or sores. They may also ask about your symptoms and medical history to help make an accurate diagnosis.

Skin scraping

In some cases, a skin scraping may be done to confirm the diagnosis of scabies. During this procedure, a small section of the affected skin is gently scraped to collect some cells. The cells are then examined under a microscope to look for the presence of scabies mites or their eggs.


Dermoscopy is a non-invasive technique that can aid in the diagnosis of scabies. It involves using a specialized magnifying instrument called a dermatoscope to examine the skin. This technique allows healthcare providers to visualize the burrows and mites more clearly, helping to confirm the diagnosis.

Risk Factors

Close contact

Scabies is highly contagious and can spread through close physical contact with an infected person. This includes activities such as hugging, holding hands, or sexual contact. If you have close contact with someone who has scabies, you have a higher risk of contracting the condition.

Crowded living conditions

Living in crowded settings, such as nursing homes, dormitories, or prisons, can increase the risk of scabies transmission. The close proximity and shared living spaces in these environments provide an ideal environment for scabies mites to spread from person to person.

Sexual activity

Engaging in sexual activity with an infected partner can put you at increased risk of contracting scabies. The mites can easily spread during intimate contact, making it essential to practice safe sexual behaviors and get treated if necessary.

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Topical creams

The primary treatment for scabies is the application of topical creams or lotions that kill the mites and their eggs. These creams typically contain medications such as permethrin or lindane, which should be applied to the entire body from the neck down and left on for a specific timeframe before being washed off. It is important to follow the instructions provided by your healthcare provider and complete the full course of treatment to ensure the eradication of the mites.

Oral medications

In some cases, oral medications may be prescribed to treat scabies. These medications, such as ivermectin, work by killing the mites from the inside out. Oral medications are often recommended for individuals who have severe or widespread scabies infections or who have failed to respond to topical treatments.

Treating close contacts

If you have been diagnosed with scabies, it is crucial to inform and treat any close contacts you have had, even if they are not showing symptoms. This includes family members, partners, or anyone you have had prolonged close contact with. Treating close contacts helps prevent the spread of scabies and ensures that everyone affected receives appropriate treatment.


Maintaining personal hygiene

Practicing good personal hygiene can help reduce the risk of scabies infestation. Regularly washing your hands with soap and warm water, especially after close contact with someone who has scabies, can help prevent the transmission of mites. Additionally, maintaining clean clothes and bedding and avoiding sharing personal items can further reduce the risk of infestation.

Avoiding close contact

If you are aware that someone close to you has scabies, it is advisable to avoid direct skin-to-skin contact until they have completed treatment. This includes refraining from activities such as hugging, holding hands, or sexual contact. By avoiding close contact during the contagious period, you can minimize the risk of contracting scabies.

Keeping living spaces clean

Regularly cleaning and vacuuming your living spaces can help eliminate any stray mites that may be present. Pay special attention to areas where infested individuals spend time, such as beds, couches, and carpets. Washing bedding and clothing in hot water and drying them on high heat can also help kill any mites or eggs that may be present.


Secondary infections

One potential complication of scabies is the development of secondary bacterial infections. Persistent scratching of the itchy areas can break the skin and create openings for bacteria to enter. These bacterial infections can cause symptoms such as increased redness, swelling, pain, or the formation of pus. If you notice any signs of infection, it is essential to seek medical attention for appropriate treatment.

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Post-scabies syndrome

In some cases, individuals who have had scabies may continue to experience itching and skin irritation even after successful treatment. This condition is known as post-scabies syndrome. The exact cause of post-scabies syndrome is unknown, but it is believed to be a result of a persistent immune response or residual inflammation in the skin. Although it can be frustrating, the symptoms typically resolve with time and proper care.

Infestation in Specific Areas

Scabies in children

Scabies can affect individuals of all ages, including children. In children, scabies can present slightly differently than in adults. It is common for scabies to appear on the scalp, face, and neck in infants and young children. It is crucial to seek medical attention if you suspect your child has scabies to ensure appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

Scabies in elderly adults

Elderly adults are also at risk of scabies infestation, and the symptoms can sometimes be more severe due to age-related changes in the skin. It is important to monitor older adults for signs of scabies, especially if they are living in a nursing home or other crowded setting. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications and ensure their comfort.

When to See a Doctor

Persistent or worsening symptoms

If you have tried over-the-counter treatments for what you suspect is scabies and your symptoms persist or worsen, it is important to seek medical attention. A healthcare provider will be able to evaluate your symptoms, perform a proper diagnosis, and recommend the most appropriate treatment for your situation.

Presence of secondary infections

If you develop additional symptoms such as increased redness, swelling, pain, or the formation of pus in the affected areas, it may indicate a secondary bacterial infection. In these cases, it is crucial to see a doctor as soon as possible to receive the necessary medical treatment to address the infection.


Scabies is a highly contagious skin condition that can cause intense itching, a rash, and even sores or blisters. It is important to differentiate scabies from other skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and contact dermatitis to receive proper treatment. Diagnosis can be made through physical examination, skin scraping, or dermoscopy. Treatment usually involves the use of topical creams or oral medications, along with treating close contacts to prevent further spread. By practicing good personal hygiene, avoiding close contact with infected individuals, and keeping living spaces clean, the risk of scabies infestation can be reduced. It is also important to be aware of potential complications such as secondary infections and post-scabies syndrome. Scabies can affect individuals of all ages, including children and elderly adults, and prompt medical attention is recommended if symptoms persist or worsen.