Delusional Itching Mites
March 4, 2005 4:14 AM   Subscribe

Delusional Itching Mites...

In my second year at university, I lived in a dirty flat. After a while I began experiencing itching and the feeling of insects crawling on my body. This might well have started with a real infestation of bugs, but continued even after the place was sprayed twice, and went on for a year after I moved to another clean flat. I believe this was a condition known as Delusional Parasitosis

I tried a lot of things including attempting to get experts on insects that affect humans to look into it. I got no help at all from doctors, who did not refer me to a psychiatrist or mention Delusional Parasitosis.

I eventually went for a few sessions of hypnotherapy. There was a period of a few weeks while I began to realise that I was focussing on the feelings in my skin too much and interpreting the normal itches as bugs. Then the problem completely went away.

The trouble is, while I was affected I visited my mother and she also began to suffer. This is apparently common in cases of DP. After I became alright, I struggled to convince my mother that the problem was DP. She eventually went for some hypnotherapy and was cured for a while, but it came back.

I’m at a loss as to how to help her. It’s extremely unpleasant, and makes you unable to sleep or properly relax. She’s now had it going on 4 years and shows no sign of getting better. She has found some bio cleaning product that gives her some relief, but it affects her life greatly.

She is not a rational person in some ways, and this is makes it harder. The fact that I used to have it, and can now be in the same room without suffering does not convince her, neither does the fact that hypnotherapy cured her for a while. She believes that one can be ‘sensitised’ to the presence of these mites.

I know from my experience that it’s very hard to get professional help, and I don’t know how I’d get a specialist involved in the UK even if I could afford the costs. She wouldn’t go to a psychiatrist as she fights the suggestion that it is a mental problem.

I would appreciate any ideas you have or to know of any similar experiences.
posted by lunkfish to Health & Fitness (10 answers total)
Something like this happened to me in college- a friend of mine got lice and for a couple of days he was all paranoid, even after treatment. His paranoia was catching and I started to feel it too, always hyperaware, feeling itchy and crawly. No great answers here, it basically took time and went away, I did do a sort of "ritual" cleaning of my bedsheets, pillowcases, sofa, etc. That may have helped.

The length of time it's been affecting your mother suggests she needs a return visit to the hypnotherapist, or be convinced that she needs to take it further. This doesn't seem like it's great help- but good luck.
posted by jeremias at 5:56 AM on March 4, 2005

i had a very mild obsessional/paranoid thing going for a week or two and, like you, it passed when i "understood" that my own obsessiveness was the source of the problem. unfortunately, i have no idea how to get anyone else to that same point. i do wonder, though, if the reasoning we've both used (we "understand" it, and then get better) is just a rationalisation. maybe we recovered for some other reason and beginning to "realise that I was focussing on the feelings in my skin too much" is simply part of getting better, rather than the cause. in my case, at least, i was also stressed for a couple of other reasons - it's possible that coming to terms with those was what actually caused the recovery. so perhaps you could look at what else might be worrying/stressing your mother. of course, this also puts you in a horrible dilemma - maybe you could force her to take some action by applying emotional pressure (being her child), but then that would be exactly the opposite of making her life easier. i don't know the answer, but, as someone who had a mentally ill parent for a long time, i know it can be pretty awful. good luck and don't forget that, whatever the history and the relationship, it's ultimately her life and not your responsibility. help all you can, but recognise that you might not be able to make any difference and don't beat yourself up for it.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:49 AM on March 4, 2005

well, if professional help isn't an option and she isn't able to acknowledge that it's in her head, perhaps you could convince her to take an herbal supplement known for calming and mood-lifting effects? i'm thinking of st. john's wort or maybe kava kava, although i'm not sure if these are available to you without prescription. anyway, this next bit might not feel right for you -- but you might suggest she take something like this for its ability to repel real mites (like, pretend it has antiseptic qualities? say they're not well-known but some people have had success in this way. . . ). of course, this description of an herbal supplement isn't true or logical, and my idea might seem unethical to some people, but it sounds like your mom is suffering a lot. good luck!
posted by katie at 7:26 AM on March 4, 2005

I have absolutely no idea if this technique would be useful for your mother, and, based upon her personality as you describe it, it may not be useful at all or could be harmful.

However, to get some truly nasty anxiety-producing thoughts out of my head, I occasionally will wear a rubber band around my wrist. When I detect the thought pattern coming on board, I will snap the rubber band against my wrist, simultaneously picturing a big red STOP sign in my field of vision and my own mental voice yelling at myself "STOP!". The combination of the slight burst of pain and the mental actions usually help.

But, depending on how well you feel your mother is, you could see how such a technique could prove harmful if repeated, say, every five or 10 seconds.
posted by WCityMike at 7:29 AM on March 4, 2005

Ah, katie is suggested a sort of placebo effect. Not a bad idea, but perhaps an easier way to do this would be a nice oil bath, scented with something calming. Its easy for a person to believe that a soak is going to relieve this sort of problem. With a nice cup of herb tea, it sounds rather nice!
posted by Goofyy at 10:21 AM on March 4, 2005

I'll go farther with recommending the "placebo" effect, and suggest you buy your mom some very special cream. Nothing with any real medication in it, but perhaps a homeopathic remedy (finally.. a use for them besides moisturizing). The rubbing on of the cream and the moisturizing effect will be soothing. Olive oil would work just as well, but without the status of "medicine", it might not work as well.
posted by reflecked at 10:53 AM on March 4, 2005

On that note, I have some Borage Dry Skin Therapy lotion which I bought at Whole Foods. It supposedly helps with eczema, so I bought it for a friend that gets it during the winter. Turns out that it's the nicest, non-oily cream that I've tried. Whatever dry skin / itchy ailments your mom may actually have will be soothed by the borage oil, and the cream isn't greasy. It's a little pricy at $20 for a bottle, but I've found it much, much nicer than the average Lubriderm. You could show her how it helps with "skin disorders" and go from there.
posted by fionab at 11:24 AM on March 4, 2005

i definitely think cream/skin treatment "placebos" could work and it would certainly be easier to convince your mom to use them than to take pills, but i suggested st john's wort because it alleviates depression/anxiety for some people. it sounds to me like your mom could use some anxiety reduction! i've never heard of DP before, but it sounds like a kind of obsessive compulsive disorder, and her overzealous use of cleaning products sounds like OCD too. four years is a loooong time to have irrational thoughts controlling your life -- a real medicine (albeit an herbal one) with placebo possibilities seems like a fairly easy way to move your mother towards chemically altering the tricks her mind is playing on her, whether or not she thinks that's what is happening.
posted by katie at 11:53 AM on March 4, 2005

I've observed this kind of mild group hallucinosis on medical teams that have to round on patients with scabies, which is highly contagious. I've always called it "psychogenic scabies" - I didn't know there was a real name for it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:58 AM on March 4, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas. I dunno if the placebo will work..she's pretty up to speed on alternative medicine anyway. Maybe I'll think of something new though.
posted by lunkfish at 1:36 PM on March 4, 2005

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