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Morgellons disease: Managing an unexplained skin condition

Medically reviewed on April 10, 2018

Morgellons disease is an uncommon, poorly understood condition characterized by small fibers or other particles emerging from skin sores. People with this condition often report feeling as if something were crawling on or stinging their skin.

Some doctors recognize the condition as a delusional infestation and treat it with cognitive behavioral therapy, antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs and counseling. Others think the symptoms are related to an infectious process in skin cells. Further study is needed.

Signs and symptoms

People who have Morgellons disease report the following signs and symptoms:

  • Skin rashes or sores that can cause intense itching
  • Crawling sensations on and under the skin, often compared to insects moving, stinging or biting
  • Fibers, threads or black stringy material in and on the skin
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Depressed mood

The intense itching and open sores associated with Morgellons disease can severely interfere with a person's quality of life.

What do researchers know about Morgellons disease?

The research on Morgellons by multiple groups over decades has yielded conflicting results. Multiple studies report a possible link between Morgellons and infection with Borrelia spirochetes.

These results contradict an earlier study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which concluded that the condition isn't caused by an infection or parasites. The CDC study of 115 people with Morgellons, which the CDC refers to as an unexplained dermatopathy, showed that most of the fibers in the skin wounds were cotton. The CDC report noted that the condition is most often seen in middle-aged white women, and its symptoms are very similar to those of a mental illness involving false beliefs about infestation by parasites (delusional infestation).

Small research studies have tried to determine the cause and effective treatment for Morgellons disease. But there is still no proven guidance on diagnosis and treatment. Further research is needed.

A contested diagnosis

Common attitudes of health professionals toward Morgellons disease include:

  • Thinking that Morgellons disease is a specific condition that needs to be confirmed by research
  • Thinking that signs and symptoms of Morgellons disease are caused by another condition, often mental illness
  • Not acknowledging Morgellons disease or reserving judgment until more is known about it

Some people who suspect they have Morgellons disease claim they've been ignored or dismissed as fakers. In contrast, some doctors say that people who report signs and symptoms of Morgellons disease typically resist other explanations for their condition.

Coping with Morgellons disease

The signs and symptoms linked to Morgellons disease can be distressing. Even though health professionals may disagree about the nature of the condition, you deserve compassionate treatment. To manage your signs and symptoms:

  • Establish a relationship with a caring health care team. Find a doctor who acknowledges your concerns, does a thorough examination, talks through treatment options with you and works with a multidisciplinary team.
  • Be patient. Your doctor will likely look for known conditions that point to evidence-based treatments before considering a diagnosis of Morgellons disease.
  • Keep an open mind. Consider various causes for your signs and symptoms and discuss your doctor's recommendations for treatment — which may include long-term mental health therapy.
  • Seek treatment for other conditions. Get treatment for anxiety, depression or any other condition that affects your thinking, moods or behavior.

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