Morgellons disease is a rare condition. Its hallmarks include slow healing skin lesions and fibers underneath or projecting from the skin. People with this disease also report feeling crawling, stinging, or biting sensations in their skin.
Limited information is available on Morgellons disease, and the condition remains a controversial topic among researchers and healthcare professionals.
Keep reading to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of Morgellons disease.
The exact cause of Morgellons disease remains unclear. Some researchers and healthcare professionals classify it as a delusional mental illness, stating that the fibers present under the skin come from fabrics and textiles.
Others claim that Borrelia burgdorferi — the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease — causes Morgellons disease.
In a 2012 study, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined 115 people with symptoms of Morgellons disease.
The researchers performed clinical evaluations, analyzed skin and blood samples, and reviewed the medical history of each study participant. In doing so, they did not find a common underlying medical condition or infectious agent among the study participants.
According to the researchers, 43% of the participants had fibrous material in at least one skin lesion. Upon further analysis, the researchers concluded that the majority of fiber samples contained cotton. However, they identified bacteria or fungi in 19 people.
None of the study participants tested positive for B. burgdorferi infections.
In a 2017 case study, researchers documented the experience of a 30-year-old Korean woman who said that she had Morgellons disease. According to the authors, the woman reported having skin lesions on her arms, hands, and chin, which had lasted for 2 months. She also had a fibrous-like projection under her skin.
The woman did not show signs of a B. burgdorferi infection, and her doctor advised her to seek psychiatric treatment.
However, the authors of a 2015 study did find B. burgdorferi in 24 out of the 25 participants with Morgellons disease. They also examined skin samples from each participant, many of which contained fiber-like materials.
Upon further investigation, the researchers concluded that the fibers contained human skin cells. They found that the fibers originated from hair follicles, not fabric.
In a more recent 2018 study involving 1,000 people with Lyme disease, 6% of these individuals had Morgellons disease and tested positive for B. burgdorferi. Of those with Morgellons disease, 77% had at least one additional infection.
Morgellons disease is a rare skin condition involving the appearance of black, white, red, or blue fibers underneath or protruding from the skin. People who have Morgellons disease may also develop slow healing ulcers on their skin.
Other symptoms of Morgellons disease may include:
- chronic or severe fatigue
- difficulty concentrating
- memory problems
- muscle and joint pain
- formication, which is the sensation of an insect crawling on, stinging, or biting the skin
- joint pain
There are no standard treatment guidelines for Morgellons disease. Treatments vary depending on the underlying cause.
Doctors may recommend antibiotic therapy if they believe that a person’s condition resulted from a bacterial infection or tick-borne illness. Topical and oral antibiotics may also help heal open or long lasting skin lesions.
Doctors who believe that a person’s symptoms result from a mental health condition may prescribe psychiatric medication, such as anti-anxiety or antipsychotic drugs. They may also recommend talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
A doctor may diagnose Morgellons disease if a person has slow healing skin lesions and skin-crawling sensations. If a doctor finds fiber-like material in the skin lesions, they may send a sample to a laboratory for further analysis.
Testing blood and skin samples may reveal signs of a bacterial infection, which might involve the B. burgdorferi bacterium. People can develop secondary Staphylococcus infections as a result of having an open wound.
Doctors may refer someone to a psychiatrist for further evaluation if the person experiences symptoms of depression or anxiety, or if they have a history of mental illness.
Diagnosing Morgellons disease can involve multiple testing procedures. Ultimately, doctors will base their diagnosis on the results of a physical examination and laboratory tests.
It is essential that people work with a trusted healthcare provider, especially if they have a condition as poorly understood as Morgellons disease. People may have better treatment outcomes when they work with a healthcare provider whom they know and trust.
People may wish to contact their doctor if they:
- develop open skin wounds with no apparent cause
- have long lasting skin wounds
- find fibers embedded in or protruding from their skin
- experience joint or muscle pain
- feel extremely tired most days
- experience memory or concentration problems
Morgellons disease is a rare and poorly understood condition that causes chronic skin wounds that can contain black, white, red, or blue fibers.
People who have Morgellons disease report a wide range of symptoms, including crawling sensations in their skin, joint and muscle pain, and memory problems.
The exact cause remains unknown. However, some healthcare professionals and researchers believe Morgellons disease results from a tick-borne bacterial infection, similar to Lyme disease.
Others consider Morgellons disease to be a mental health disorder.