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Scabies is a skin condition caused by a tiny mite that gets under the skin and lays eggs.

It is:

  • very common - anyone can get it
  • passed by skin-to-skin or sexual contact with a person who has scabies
  • easily spread - so it should be treated quickly
  • not usually a serious condition

Check if you have scabies

The symptoms of scabies are:

  • intense itching, especially at night
  • a raised rash or spots

The rash or spots may look red. They are more difficult to see on brown or black skin, but you should be able to feel them.

The rash can appear anywhere, but it often starts between the fingers.

Tiny bumps in a line with a dot at one end, shown on white skin.
Tiny mites lay eggs in the skin. This looks like a raised line with a dot at one end.
A hand with white skin shows a red rash in between the fingers, across the knuckles and the back of the hand
Red spots on white skin.
The rash spreads and turns into tiny red spots.
Dark spots caused by scabies on a hand with brown skin.
The rash may leave dark spots on brown or black skin.

It can take up to 8 weeks after the mites get under your skin for the scabies rash to appear.

It usually spreads across the whole body, but not the head.

You may develop a rash on your head and neck if you:

  • are an older person
  • are a very young child
  • have a weakened immune system

Treatment for scabies

Your pharmacist can help with scabies.

They will recommend a cream or lotion that you apply over your whole body. You can buy this without a prescription. It's important you read the instructions carefully. You'll need to repeat the treatment 1 week later.

Everyone in your household needs to be treated at the same time - even if they do not have symptoms.

If you have had sexual contact with anyone in the past 8 weeks, they should also be treated.

Help with itchiness

Calamine lotion may help to relieve itchy skin. It is available without a prescription.

If you are very itchy, your GP can prescribe creams that help with itchiness.

Itchy skin

How long it takes to get rid of scabies

You or your child can go back to work or school 24 hours after the first treatment.

Although the treatment kills the mites quickly, the itching can carry on for a few weeks.

Non-urgent advice: Talk to your GP if:

  • your skin is still itching 4 weeks after treatment has finished

How to stop scabies spreading

Anyone can get scabies. It has nothing to do with poor hygiene. You cannot get scabies from pets.

People who live or work closely together in nurseries or nursing homes are more at risk.


  • wash all bedding and clothing on the first day of treatment - 50 degrees Celsius will kill the mites

  • put clothing that cannot be washed in a sealed bag for 3 days until the mites die

  • stop babies and children sucking treatment from their hands by putting socks or mittens on them


  • do not have sex or close physical contact with anyone until you have finished the full course of treatment

  • do not share bedding, clothing or towels with someone who has scabies

Complications of scabies

Scratching the rash can cause skin infections such as impetigo.

Scabies can make conditions such as eczema or psoriasis worse.

If there are a lot of mites under the skin, crusted scabies can form. This is serious, but not common. It can affect older people and those with a lowered immune system. 

Page last reviewed: 21 May 2023
Next review due: 21 May 2026

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.