What is Dermatophagia?

We often see people or ourselves bite our nails when under stress or when watching an exciting ball game. This is quite normal but in some people this habit of biting nails becomes a habit to such an extent that they start chewing on their own skin, especially near the nails so much so that there is bleeding from the area. This behavior is unusual and is medically termed as Dermatophagia and is stated to be a form of an obsessive compulsive disorder and people suffering from this condition are called as "Wolf Biters."

What Causes Dermatophagia & How is it Treated?

People with Dermatophagia do not need a stressful situation to start biting their skin but they tend to do it every now and then and find immense pleasure in doing it even if it results in severe damage to the skin and bleeding. This is why it is extremely important to identify the disorder, accept it, and treat it in a timely fashion before permanent damage to the skin occurs.

What Causes Dermatophagia?

As stated, Dermatophagia has been linked to be a form of an OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD is a mental condition in which an individual starts having obsessive thoughts like washing the hands for fear of germs entering the body and does it repetitively causing more harm than good. In Dermatophagia, the patient feels relief after biting and chewing the skin for some before he or she gets anxious again and starts to bite and chew the skin again. In some studies, Dermatophagia has been stated to have a genetic link to it, as it has been noted that many people with this condition tend to have family members with the same disorder. Some of the other causes that may result in Dermatophagia are a traumatic childhood, extreme stress, and sometimes boredom.

What are the Signs of Dermatophagia?

Below mentioned are some of the signs that will tell you whether your loved one is suffering from Dermatophagia or not.

Skin Discoloration: A person may feel that he or she bites the nails or skin only during stressful situations but in actuality this may have become a habit and the person may be doing it subconsciously. A person with Dermatophagia will have discolored nails and so keep a watch for discolored nails due to habitual biting.

Skin Damage: A person with Dermatophagia will have signs of significant skin damage in and around the nails with excessive scarring around it. It is important here to find out if the patient does it on purpose to relieve anxiety or does it subconsciously without even noting about it.

Bleeding: Dermatophagia patients will have signs of frequent bleeding from the skin. If it is just a one off case then it is fine but when it becomes frequent it is a cause of concern and may suggest Dermatophagia.

Calluses: Dermatophagia patients will also have signs of calluses forming around the area where the patient bites the skin or nails. The fingernails will also look disfigured. This is a serious cause of concern as this may predispose the patient to infections or permanent damage to the skin.

How is Dermatophagia Treated?

Patients with Dermatophagia need psychologic treatments in order to get rid of this condition. Some of the ways that the psychologists utilize to get rid of Dermatophagia are:

Behavior Modification Therapy for Dermatophagia: In this type of therapy, the psychologist recommends to polish the nail with something which has a smell which is not pleasant to the nose. This may go a long way to avoid habitual biting of the nails. Artificial nails are also recommended which are made of acrylic or gel because of which the patient will start avoiding chewing and biting the nails and skin.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Dermatophagia: In this type of therapy, the patient is encouraged to talk about his or her problem. In this way, it is believed that the patient can get rid of any dysfunctional emotions or behaviors that may be leading the patient to biting the nails and chew the skin. In this form of treatment, goals are set and the physician and the patient both work together to help reach the goal.

Medical Treatment for Dermatophagia: Dermatophagia can also be treated by medications. Antidepressants are the most common form of medication used to treat Dermatophagia. It is important to note here that antidepressants are only to be used under the mental health professional's guidance and should not be abused or misused in the name of Dermatophagia.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: July 5, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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