In the world of Arachnids, there are so many creepy creatures that are invisible to the naked eye. They look like their spider cousins, only more fearsome. They also cause more trouble than the ones we can see in plain sight. This is the world of small arthropods belonging to the sub-class Acari: the mites.
Mites are among the most resilient and diverse family of invertebrates because of their ability to colonize and exploit a broad spectrum of habitats. It helps that they are microscopic, and it is largely because of this reason that they pretty much can live wherever they want. Some live in soil and water; some feed on animals, molds and plants. A few, of course, feed on humans. There is an estimated 48,200 mites documented.
Spider, thread-footed and gall mites are plant pests; sarcoptic mange mites feed on animals by burrowing under their skin. Demodex mites are follicle-loving parasites; they live where there is hair or fur. They feed on dead microscopic skin that we shed in the eyebrows. When magnified, they’d make you think twice about putting on mascara.
Then there is the house dust mite that causes asthma, hay fever, eczema and atopic dermatitis. House dust mites and their feces account for a huge portion of house dust. When inhaled, they trigger antigens that result to hypersensitive reaction. These mites live comfortably in humid and warm areas, like in your bed. These are the variety we are warned of: don’t let the bed bugs bite.
Skin mites, as the name suggests, prefer to seek shelter under the skin, both human and animals. They burrow into the skin and make tunnels, one centimeter or more in length, where they could lay their eggs. Their activities go unnoticed because of their sheer tiny size. But under the microscope, these invisible parasites look fearsome, intimidating and definitely capable of wreaking havoc. They feed on skin and secretions during their entire lifecycle, which could last between 10-17 days. Off the host, they can only survive a few days.
Their presence is marked by intense itch. The victim starts to scratch, and suffer from inflammation in the affected area. If this sounds like scabies, that’s because these are the mites – Sarcoptes scabiei –responsible for this severely itchy condition. In animals, they are responsible for mange.
Skin mites are highly contagious. They are transmitted through prolonged human contact or use of personal items belonging to the person afflicted. Scabies infestation could go undetected for a month, especially among individuals who were previously unexposed. Then, intense itching and irritation ensue, usually at night. The condition manifests in small blisters or pimple-like rashes.
Skin mites on humans prefer to live in creases or folds in the skin: the higher the humidity, the more they thrive. Hence, you find them in the groin area, in the webbing of fingers and toes, behind the knees, in wrists, and under the breasts. Worse, the same mites can be transmitted from pet to humans, and vice versa, although skin mites on pets do not reproduce on humans. However, they linger long enough to cause hives or itchy bumps that could last a few days. So when controlling skin mite population, it is important that pets be cleaned and groomed, too.
Unlike the bedbugs, skin mites can only live up to three days on bedding, clothing or towels. Hence, to prevent transmittal, frequent washing in hot water is important.
Adding oatmeal to lukewarm water provides relief to intense itching. Soak for at least 20 minutes, then rinse with cold water and pat dry. Avoid rubbing the skin with towel, as it can lead to infection.
Tea tree, lavender and neem oil are also effective home remedies to alleviate itching. Apply undiluted or combined with witch hazel using cotton ball.