What Is Delusory Parasitosis?

freaky medical conditions, ants, hand
(Image credit: tankist276 | Shutterstock)

Ever feel something crawling on your skin — or maybe even biting you — only when you go to swat it away, there's nothing actually there? People with delusory parasitosis experience this sensation constantly, with often-disastrous effects.

Delusory parasitosis is the erroneous belief that the body is infested with invisible bugs, mites, worms or other parasites. It is also called Ekbom Syndrome. (Note, this is separate from restless leg syndrome, although both are named after Karl Ekbom, the Swedish neurologist who discovered them.) A related syndrome that involves imagined biting fibers in the skin is called Morgellons disease.

To the Ekborn sufferer, the infestation feels very real, and may lead them to dig into their skin with fingernails, scissors, tweezers or knives to find and extract their invisible tormentors. They also typically seek help from a slew of professionals, first visiting a general practitioner and later seeking second opinions and beyond from specialists such as dermatologists, mental health professionals or veterinarians. Eventually, they may contact entomologists, public health departments or infectious disease specialists to identify their “parasite.”

In reality, the problem is most often caused by prescription drugs (especially methamphetamines), psychiatric disorders, dry skin, stress, medical conditions such as dementia and drug and alcohol abuse or withdrawal. Because the symptoms feel so real, treatment is difficult; however, therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in the syndrome may help alleviate the creeping sensations.

Brooke Borel is a contributor to Life's Little Mysteries, and is currently writing a book on bed bugs. You can follow her on Twitter: @brookeborel

Life's Little Mysteries Contributor