Demodex is a type of small parasitic mites which live in or around the hair follicles of any mammal, including humans. Demodex mites are among the smallest arthropods and they have two species. One is Demodex brevis while the other is Demodex folliculorum. It is common to become infested with Demodex, with the rate of Demodex human infection being between 23 and 100 percent in healthy adults. The infestation doesn’t usually include any symptoms, but sometimes a skin disease may occur due to an immune mechanism imbalance.
Where Can Demodex Mites Be Found?
When affecting humans, Demodex Mites are more common on the facial skin, such as the external ear canals, eyelashes, sides of the nose, cheeks and forehead. They cause a condition known as demodicosis. The variety known as Demodex folliculorum typically affects small hair follicles, like the eyelashes with both the stages (immature and adult) feeding on skin cells. Demodex brevis typically affects the oil glands which connect with small hair follicles and this type will feed on the gland cells. Because the first type varies from 0.3 to 0.4 mm long while the second is 0.15 to 0.2 mm, they are invisible without a microscope. When you look at them under a microscope, you can see their 8 legs moving about 8 to 16 mm/h, typically at night. The mite goes back into its follicle in bright light.
What Can Demodex Mites Do to You?
In most people, Demodex mites will not cause any symptoms. The mites are more likely to increase in population out of control in certain people, such as those with compromised skin faunae, taking antibiotics, suppressed immune systems (from illness or stress), or the elderly. It is also more common for those on immunosuppressive drugs, anyone with HIV, or children with leukemia to have mite infestations. Because men have larger numbers of sebaceous glands which provide the mites with food, they are more prone to infestation than women.
An infestation of Demodex mites may lead to mite bite or demodicosis which causes inflammation, itching, blackheads, adult acne, thin hair, redness, dilated veins, large pores, eyelid inflammation (blepharitis), or rosacea. Some people complain about feeling as if there are insects under their skin, which is called formication.
Some people experience acarophobia, a fear of mites as well as other microorganisms associated with itching. People who have this phobia frequently experience benefits by taking a relaxing vacation involving bare skin and sun to “get away from everything.” There is still some infestation remaining after the vacation, but the combination of lower stress, improved immune system, increased vitamin D, bright light and natural saltwater typically help.
How Do Demodex Mites Cause Skin Problems?
Demodex mites will swell in numbers due to changes to a person’s skin caused by illness, stress, or aging. When a mite dies, it releases bacteria into your skin and the bacteria causes an immune reaction which leads to skin inflammation and redness. While the mites themselves aren’t harmful, the bacteria they release can be.
How to Control Demodex Mites
The first step of controlling Demodex mites is to follow regular hygiene. Clean your entire body with your regular soap or shampoo since these mites can move between different areas of the body. You should also make sure to wash your bedding at least one time per week, preferably running it through the dryer on hot to kill the mites. It is also possible for pets to have these mites, but experts are still unsure whether Demodex can move between humans and pets. As such, you may not want to sleep with your pets to reduce your risk or control an infestation.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is capable of killing the mites within just four minutes. The thing to remember, however, is that this essential oil is strong and as such, you should never apply it externally to your face without first diluting it. Tea tree oil isn’t soluble in water, but you can dissolve it in alcohol. Obviously, using alcohol around the eyes is a poor idea due to safety risks. The best way to dilute tea tree oil for use around your eyes is to dilute to 50 percent with Macadamia nut oil. An alternative would be ointment, soap, or shampoo that contains tea tree oil.
You can also visit your doctor for treatment in their office to control the infestation. In the case of Demodex folliculorum, your doctor can use volatile fluids to lure the mites to the surface of the follicles. While ether is not allowed within the United States, this is an option in other countries. It can be vigorously brushed along the margin of the external lid after a 0.5 percent proparacaine instillation. After five minutes, your doctor will apply a solution with 70 percent alcohol. The idea is to reduce the symptoms of infection as well as the number of mites. The caveat, however, is that using ether and alcohol can be dangerous when not done correctly, so precautions must be taken and you have to avoid contact with the cornea.
You can also try controlling Demodex mites with an ointment that combines antibiotics and steroids. Using this for a period of a week will prevent the mites on your body from moving, possibly suffocating them as well. The steroid has the additional benefits of reducing the secondary inflammation which is a possibility following the mechanical and chemical irritation caused by the above in-office treatment. It can also suppress any possible inflammatory issues that the decaying mites cause. After the week has passed, the ointment should be replaced with one that is either pure antibiotic or that has 10 percent tea tree oil in it.