Iowa Insect Information Notes

Illusory Parasitosis

Illusory Parasitosis

A common problem that people encounter is "bites," itching, or skin irritations that are assumed to be caused by insects but for which no insects or mites can be seen or found. Illusory parasitosis is one of many names used to describe bite-like symptoms caused by non-animal environmental factors. Other names used for the nonexistent arthropods assumed to be the cause of a skin irritation are "paper mite," "sand flea," and "cable mite." There are no such animals as the mythical arthropods just listed.

There are only a few biting insects that produce skin reactions, and these are all large enough to be seen and readily identified. Common biting pests include fleas, head lice, ticks, bat bugs, bed bugs and mosquitoes. Obscure or microscopic organisms that may bite are possible (the most likely being the skin-infesting scabies mite) but these can be isolated and identified by a dermatologist.

Our study of unexplained biting sensations has uncovered several published articles on the topic and a long list of potential causes for "biting" sensations or skin irritation. Some of the most common causes are:

Physical agents
-dry air
-static electricity
-personal and household products; e.g., detergents, cosmetics, jewelry -environmental pollutants
-microscopic fibers; e.g., fiber glass or paper splinters
-gases or indoor air pollution; "sick or tight building syndrome"

Physiologic factors
-diseases and disorders such as diabetes
-neurological disorder such as shingles

Psychological state
-anger, anxiety, stress, nerves

Updated 07/14/2005 - 1:53pm