Scabies is an allergic reaction to the infestation of the skin by a tiny mite known as Sarcoptes scabiei. The scabies mite is a parasitic insect which burrows into human skin where it feeds and lays eggs. Burrows appear as tiny, grey swellings on the skin around the wrists, armpits, navel, buttocks, between the fingers, around the breasts in women, around the penis and scrotum in men and on the face and scalp in babies. These areas can become very itchy, especially at night. Scratching can lead to the formation of scabs, sores and even bleeding.

Scabies affects babies, children and adolescents more than it does adults.

How Scabies Is Spread

Scabies is contagious and is spread by direct physical contact. The mites cannot survive away from human skin for long, therefore it is unlikely that the condition will spread by sharing towels, pillows and items of clothing.

Avoiding Scabies

Avoid close contact with anyone who has scabies. The condition should be recognised and treated as soon as possible. If one member of a household has scabies then the whole household should be treated at the same time.


Insecticide treatments for scabies can be bought over the counter at most pharmacies. These treatments usually contain malathion, permethrin, or benzyl benzoate and are available in cream, lotion and liquid forms. Some scabies treatments are water-based and others are alcohol-based. Alcohol-based products are more likely to irritate the skin. They can also give off fumes, therefore they are not recommended for people with asthma.Apply the treatments to cool, dry skin. Do not apply immediately after a hot bath. Cover the whole of the body below the neck, paying particular attention to between the fingers and toes and underneath the fingernails. (The head and neck should be treated along with the rest of the body in babies, the elderly, anyone who has not responded to treatment previously and anyone who has a defective immune system.) Do not wash your hands after applying the treatment.Itching can be relieved by applying a cooling lotion such as calamine or crotamiton. Ask your pharmacist for advice.

Night-time itching can be relieved by taking an antihistamine medicine. Some types of antihistamine can cause drowsiness therefore should not be taken before driving. Your pharmacist will be able to advice you.

When To See A Doctor

Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and babies should all see a doctor before using any insecticide treatment.

Anyone who has not responded to treatment should also see a doctor.

Additional Information

A leaflet about head lice is also available from this pharmacy.