Dermatophagia pertains to the habitual, compulsive biting of the skin, specifically that which surrounds the nails. This condition often leads to skin discoloration, calluses, skin damage and bleeding. For those who are afflicted by it, it is but normal for them to see their nails bloody. Affected individuals usually resort to compulsive biting in response to unpleasant events, anxiety or whenever there is a feeling of uneasiness. These people may likewise have the tendency to bite the skin on other parts of the body.
Dermatophagia sufferers may view this habit as harmless and a way to distract themselves during stressful moments. However, this compulsive biting habit exposes the skin to infections and eventual damage that is not irreversible. It is a neurological condition that must be addressed promptly and appropriately. Treatment involves behavioral and cognitive therapy coupled with the right medications.
It starts when a person compulsively bites his or her skin, which then becomes a habit. It can be brought forth by a variety of reasons, such as:
Compulsive skin biting is a form of OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder that arises due to anxiety. Anxiety is the brain’s reaction to danger and compels the person to respond accordingly. However, this function is impaired in the case of OCD which causes the person to believe that there is impending danger when there is none.
What are the manifestations of Dermatophagia?
People who resort to this compulsive skin biting habit have discolored and uneven skin tone. Blisters and bleeding are also common on the bitten area, such as the in the folds of the nails, cuticles, hangnails and calluses. The condition also has a huge effect on the emotional aspect of the affected individual, which is manifested by, anxiety, low self esteem, obsession, compulsion and withdrawal behavior.
Aside from biting the skin, the patient may also pick on his/her skin or eat his/her hair compulsively. If left untreated, compulsive skin biting exposes the skin to infections, bruises, scarring and permanent skin damage. Studies showed that this form of obsessive compulsive disorder is more common in women than men.
Dermatophagia is not yet fully understood by medical experts. Even so, current treatment methods have been found to help patients break free from this compulsive skin biting habit. Among the widely used treatment courses are:
Prescription antidepressants help manage depression which often comes with the disorder. The patient is under close supervision by his/her doctor to ensure that this medication is not abused.
- Behavioral therapy
This method is effectively employed to discourage the patient from biting his/her skin. Since the main area of infliction are the fingers, polishing the nails with unpleasant odor deter the patient from biting the skin around them. Artificial gel or acrylic-made nails have been found effective in discouraging compulsive biting of the skin around the nails too.
- Psychotherapeutic therapy
This method addresses the cognitive problems experienced by the patient including his or her behavioral, emotional and cognitive functions.