Do I Have Scabies or Something Else?

A man itches over his shirt in his armpit area.
  • Scabies rashes are sometimes confused with rashes caused by other skin conditions, including psoriasis, contact dermatitis, papular urticaria, and eczema.

  • Unlike most of these other skin conditions, a scabies rash is highly contagious and must be treated as soon as possible.

  • To correctly diagnose and treat scabies, you should consult with a licensed medical professional.

What is a Scabies Infection and How Do I Know if I Have One?

Scabies are a skin infection of the human itch mite Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis.

These parasitic scabies mites burrow into the top layer of the skin, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the perfect environment for them to live and lay their eggs.

Having close skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a scabies infection — specifically through sexual intercourse — is the most common way to become infested with the mites.

However, scabies is not only a sexually transmitted infection (STI) as it can spread to anyone living in or sharing close quarters with an infected person.

A scabies mite infestation is often found in places such as nursing homes, hospitals, classrooms, daycares, dorms, prisons, gyms, and sports lockers.

Key Point: What is the Most Common Symptom of Scabies?

The most common and obvious symptom of a scabies infection is an extremely itchy rash that flares up at night.

Which Conditions are Often Mistaken for Scabies?

Scabies can be confused with other skin conditions that display similar symptoms, namely bumps on the skin and intense itching.

A scabies rash is not actually caused by human itch mite bites. Research shows that it is triggered by an immune response to the presence of the mites and their eggs under the skin.

Scabies rashes are typically found on the wrists, elbows, armpits, shoulder blades, and between the fingers. Other common places for scabies rashes include the penis, nipple, waist, and buttocks.


This autoimmune disease occurs when the body creates new skin cells at a rapid rate.

Because of the fast rate at which these skin cells are generated, they tend to pile up on the surface of the skin, causing scaly patches, which can sometimes be confused with crusted scabies.

Psoriasis on the back of a person's neck.

Allergic contact dermatitis

If your skin comes into contact with an irritant such as detergents, solvents, or acids, you may experience an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of contact dermatitis include itchiness, which can become intense, as well as a rash and tender or swollen skin. These side effects are very similar to those associated with crusted scabies.

Allergic contact dermatitis can also cause hives (itchy, raised patches) to appear on your skin.


Hair follicles that become damaged and then infected with the Staph aureus bacteria cause a skin condition called folliculitis.

This infection often looks like acne, but it is not accompanied by itchiness as is the case with scabies.

Although folliculitis is not generally itchy, the rash that it causes may look similar to scabies.


Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is actually an umbrella term for a group of skin conditions that causes the skin to become inflamed, irritated, and itchy.

People with eczema also often experience a very severe itch. However, unlike scabies, eczema is not contagious.

Papular urticaria

An itchy cluster of bumps on the skin may be an indication of papular urticaria, which is actually a reaction to insect bites. However, these bumps are generally smaller and flatter in appearance than those caused by scabies.

When Should I Contact a Doctor?

It is best to seek advice from a medical professional if you experience any unusual skin changes.

A doctor will be able to correctly identify the cause of your skin concern and may then prescribe a topical ointment or oral medication as treatment.

A man applies ointment to a rash on his forearm.

Where Can I Learn More About Scabies and Other STDs?

Discussing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like scabies can be a sensitive topic. If you’re looking for a discreet way to get medical advice, LifeMD can help.

To discuss scabies or any other skin concerns, make an appointment with a board-certified doctor today — from the comfort of your home.

Theresa Vergara, CNP- BC

Theresa is a Certified Nurse Practitioner with a Masters in Human Nutrition and a Doctorate in Nursing from Columbia University. Theresa has treated hospitalized patients and helped patients manage chronic and acute conditions.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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