For people who suffer from Dermatophagia, it is a disorder (not a bad habit) that is embarrassing, misdiagnosed, uncontrollable, and painful.
I know because I have it.
This is going to be the first time I have ever talked about this because I’m a 39-year-old woman and it’s very hard to understand and deal with personally, I don’t expect others to understand it.
I hide it well most of the time. I do get the occasional, What’s wrong with your fingers?
I stopped getting my nails done because I am so embarrassed by what the manicurist is thinking about my hands. Even when I did go, I would end up picking my polish off within the first few days. Even acrylic and gel nails wouldn’t last long.
My case of Dermatophagia has become rather frustrating and very distracting recently. I think it’s mainly because I’m getting older I keep telling myself I should know better by now. But it seems like the older I get, the worse my symptoms become.
Before I get deeper into my personal story about Dermatophagia, I want to explain exactly what it is so we are all on the same page.
What is Dermatophagia?
Dermatophagia means skin (dermato) eating (phagia) aka “wolf biters,”
Dermatophagia is a psychological condition in which a person compulsively bites, chews, gnaws, or eats skin around their fingers but can also include cheeks, and lips.
This is different then biting nails and hangnails.
Skin biting becomes a problem when it causes distress or interferes with daily functioning.
People who struggle with this disorder gnaw and pick at their skin uncontrollably, leaving it bloody, infected, and in pain causing it to interfere with their day to day activities.
My fingers wake me up every night throbbing and hurting. I can’t wash dished or my hair without my hands burning. My fingers hurt when I bend them and sometimes I can’t bend one or two at all. Using hand sanitizer is absolutely dreadful. My hands tremble because they burn so bad because of the open sores. It’s hard to do housework or even fold laundry.
I know, I get it! Why would anyone do this to themselves?
It is a way to deal with feeling overwhelmed, stress, and/or anxious. Then it becomes compulsive urges to improve the imperfections. It’s a constant neverending cycle. You tell yourself you are just going to chew on this one small area but then the next thing you know, you’re already down to the knuckle.
You can always tell how stressed out or anxious I am just by looking at my hands.
Dermatophagia is a form of self-soothing, not self-harming or self-mutilation.
The act of biting or chewing creates a calming effect and get temporary relief. Often times, they may not be aware of what they are doing. I know I don’t until my husband nudges me or tells me to stop.
What does Dermatophagia look like?
I am about to show you my pictures of my current episode. Please don’t think I’m gross. I really want to raise awareness and help others understand.
Dermatophagia looks like sitting on the sofa watching tv unconsciously picking and chewing on your finger.
It looks like a woman under a lot of stress and pressure at work.
It looks like someone who is nervous about a big test coming up.
It looks like a mother who worries about her children.
It looks like a man who is going through a divorce.
Dermatophagia looks like someone who is bored and fidgeting.
What are the symptoms of Dermatophagia?
If you suspect you or someone you know may be suffering from Dermatophagia, here are a couple of red flags to look for.
- Skin damage
- Skin discoloration
- Dried blood
- Bandaids on fingertips
- Picking at nails subconsciously
- Infected areas
What causes Dermatophagia?
There still isn’t much understanding of Dermatophagia from the medical community yet.
Since Dermatophagia is considered a mental health condition, the cause is uncertain. The TLC Foundation For Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior website suggests genetics, personality, environment, and family stress factors play a role.
Dermatophagia is also seen in people with ADHD.
More women suffer from this disorder then men.
If you suspect you or someone you know may have dermatophagia, talk to a mental health professional.
They can help you find the most effective strategies and suggest proper treatment options to help you manage the behavior.
How to treat Dermatophagia at home
There are triggers for Dermatophagia. When you feel your behavior is uncontrollable and interfering with your day to day routine, there are treatment options available.
Treating the skin
You will need to keep the area clean and covered to prevent infections. Using bandages and OTC antibiotic ointment when needed until the injured areas are completely healed.
Finding ways to deal with stress is a great distraction from chewing on your fingers. Try one of these instead:
- Working out
- Reading a good book
- Watching your favorite movie
These are some other ways people have had success with their Dermatophagia:
- Getting a manicure or nails painted
- Wearing gloves
- Wear finger cots
- Paint nails with nasty tasting polish
- Keep your fingers busy by drawing, painting, or writing.
- Chew gum
I found these on Amazon and lots of people have had success using them.
Gel Finger Cots, Finger Protector Support
- Made with soft, durable, and comfortable material
- Enriched with Vitamin E
- Provides protection and instant relief
- You can use them on your fingers or toes
- Can be cut down to size
- Acts as a mild warm compression
After reading all of these benefits, I ordered mine!
Another product worth purchasing to help treat Dermatophagia and heal the sores faster is Carbon 60. Carbon 60 is high in antioxidants. In fact, it’s 250 times stronger than vitamin C. This makes it a great topical to treat skin infections. Besides Carbon 60 is great for this purpose, it also offers many other health benefits Carbon 60 offers that will optimize your health.
There are no prescription medications that treat Dermatophagia. However, there are some that can help reduce symptoms such as stress, anxiety and depression. If this is the route you are considering taking to treat your condition, speak to your doctor about your options.
I do not have any proven methods that have personally worked for me. I am just starting my recovery. In fact, this blog post is my first step and that’s awareness. Up until now, I wasn’t aware of what I was dealing with. I thought it was just a gross bad habit and so did my husband. He would constantly tell me to stop and get frustrated with me but in a caring way.
I really have tried hard to stop. I want to stop! Why wouldn’t I? The pictures speak for themselves. I don’t want to walk around like that. It’s so embarrassing. I constantly wonder if people notice but like I mentioned before, I got really good at hiding it.
I even asked my doctor about it a few months ago and she told me it was eczema and gave me a small cream. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and tried it. It lit my fingers on fire! Burned soooo bad.
It wasn’t until recently when I became under a lot of stress and that triggered my Dermatophagia. My husband mentioned that I should see a counselor. I wasn’t sure why because to me it was just a bad habit. It just so happens we knew a guy and my husband reached out to him. Thats when I started to see this for more then a habit and more of a psychological condition that I would need to understand and seek professional help for.
I spent the next few days reading and researching exactly what Dermatophagia is. Like most things in life when we are trying to understand or overcome something, we have more success when we know “why”.
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