Many people have at some time experienced the eerie sensation of insects or other tiny pests (including fungi) crawling or growing on or under their skin. This is usually quite harmless, though extremely irritating, but in a few cases the problem can escalate as the person starts to scratch excessively, damaging their skin and exposing themselves to infection or longer term skin damage. This can even turn into a more damaging anxiety disorder.
It is of course possible that the person has an infestation or infection, so a quick visit to their doctor for examination, and possibly tests, usually resolves the issue. However, in a few cases it does not, or the person concerned does not believe their doctor’s conclusion – the medical term for this is formication and reports date back to 1889.
There are many possibilities to explain this sensation, some of which may not have occurred to you or even your doctor. Some drugs (recreational, including alcohol, as well as prescription) are known to cause this sensation as a side effect, or even after you have stopped taking the drug! In a few rare cases, when all else has been ruled out, the person has to seek behavioural treatment for their strength of belief in something that is not happening.
I think we can conclude that this is a potentially severe illness of the type that is very difficult to manage, having physical as well as psychological contributors. In the worst cases the patient is so convinced that they are right and that there is something crawling on their skin that it is impossible to convince them otherwise – which is an awful situation for everyone concerned. Hopefully this article and others like it can raise awareness of this disorder for the good of all.
Skin crawling causes: menopause, diabetes, mercury poisoning, Lyme disease, Herpes zoster, recreational drug abuse, alcohol abuse and lots more.
Formication reports for people taking antifungal drugs:
Formication reports for people taking steroid medication:
Delusions of Parasitosis Clinical Presentation: An article written more for the medical professional, which talks a lot about delusion. Worth reading for the list of conditions that have been reported to mimic ‘skin crawling’: including dementia, treatment of Parkinsons disorder using gabapentin, severe depression.