Skin Crawling Sensation (Formication): Definition, Causes & Treatment

  • Formication is a sensory hallucination that gives the sensation of insects crawling on or under the skin.
  • It can vary in intensity and location, but it is typically described as a tingling, itching, or prickling feeling.
  • Formication can be incredibly distressing and disruptive to daily life, causing anxiety and discomfort.

skin crawling sensation

Do you know the unsettling sensation of having bugs crawl on your skin even when there are none? If this is the case, you may be experiencing formication, also referred to as a skin-crawling sensation. We will look at the definition, underlying factors, and potential remedies for this odd phenomenon in this article.

A sensory hallucination called formication causes people to experience the sensation of insects crawling on or under their skin. Even though the word's root is the Latin word "formica," which means "ant," it does not essentially imply the presence of actual insects. Instead, it is frequently connected to undiagnosed illnesses or drug use.

Formication can be caused by a number of things, such as drug withdrawal, menopause, nerve damage, or psychiatric disorders. To choose the best treatment strategy, the root cause must be determined.

Addressing the underlying condition is essential for treatment. Treatment options may include medication, therapy, or lifestyle modifications depending on the underlying cause.

If you have ever felt your skin crawl or know someone who has, this article will offer helpful insights into formication and point you in the direction of efficient treatment options. Continue reading to discover more about this fascinating phenomenon.

What is formication?

A sensory hallucination called formication causes people to experience the sensation of insects crawling on or under their skin. Even though the word's root is the Latin word "formica," which means "ant," it does not essentially imply the presence of actual insects. Instead, it is frequently connected to undiagnosed illnesses or drug use.

Although the intensity and location of the sensation can change, it is frequently described as tingling, itching, or prickling. Any area of the body, including the scalp, face, arms, legs, and even internal organs, can experience it. Formication can be extremely upsetting, disruptive to daily life, and uncomfortable.

Understanding the sensation: What does it feel like?

People who experience formication frequently describe it as feeling like little insects are crawling or biting their skin. Some people may experience an itching, crawling, or even worm-like sensation across their bodies. From mild to severe, the sensation's intensity can vary, and some people say it is intolerable.

An urge to scratch the area is frequently present along with the sensation. Scratching, however, does not alleviate the discomfort and might even make it worse. Scratching all the time can cause skin damage, infections, and additional discomfort.

Common causes of formication

Numerous conditions, such as menopause, nerve damage, drug withdrawal, or psychiatric disorders, can cause formication. To choose the best treatment strategy, the root cause must be determined.

  • Drug withdrawal: During the withdrawal stage, some drugs, including opioids, amphetamines, and cocaine, can cause fetus formation. Unusual skin sensations may appear as the body adjusts to the substance's absence.
  • Menopause: A variety of symptoms, including formication, can be brought on by hormonal changes during the menopause. The nervous system may be impacted by fluctuating estrogen levels, which could also be a factor in the skin-crawling sensation.
  • Nerve damage: Damage to the nerves, whether from an injury, an infection, or a medical condition like diabetes, can prevent sensory nerves from functioning normally. Formication is one of the abnormal sensations that can result from this disruption.
  • Psychiatric conditions: Formication can happen in people who have psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, delusional parasitosis, or anxiety disorders. The sensation could be a sign of underlying psychological distress or the outcome of altered perception.

Medical conditions associated with formication

Additionally, formication may be a sign of a number of underlying medical conditions. Formication is frequently accompanied by the following conditions:

  • Peripheral neuropathy: Damage to the peripheral nerves characterizes the condition known as peripheral neuropathy, which frequently results in abnormal sensory perception. Peripheral neuropathy may present with formication, particularly when the small sensory fibers are impacted.
  • Fibromyalgia: A chronic pain condition that can result in widespread musculoskeletal pain, exhaustion, and sleep disturbances is known as fibromyalgia. Formication is a common fibromyalgia symptom that many sufferers also experience..
  • Multiple sclerosis: The central nervous system is impacted by the autoimmune disease known as multiple sclerosis (MS). Formication is just one of the many neurological symptoms it can cause.
  • Morgellons disease: This contentious illness is distinguished by the presence of strange fibers or threads in the skin. Despite the fact that the cause of Morgellons is still not fully understood, people who have the condition frequently describe feeling like something is crawling or biting them on their skin.

Psychological factors and formication

Although formication is frequently linked to physical causes, psychological factors can also be to blame. Stress, anxiety, and specific psychiatric conditions can worsen formication's perception or cause it to start.

The somatic symptom disorder, which is characterized by excessive worry and preoccupation with physical symptoms, may be the cause of the skin crawling for some people. In these situations, the formication may not be a physical abnormality, but rather a symptom of underlying psychological distress.

Diagnosis of formication

Consult a medical expert for a proper diagnosis if you think you may be suffering from formication. To find any underlying conditions or factors causing the skin crawling sensation, the doctor will likely start by performing a thorough medical history and physical examination.

Additional tests might be required in some circumstances to rule out particular medical conditions or evaluate nerve function. Blood tests, nerve conduction studies, imaging scans, and specialized consultations with neurologists or dermatologists are a few examples of these tests.

Treatment options for formication

The underlying cause determines the formication treatment strategy. Effective management of the skin-crawling sensation depends on addressing the underlying cause. Here are some typical medical options:

  • Medication: Drugs used to treat the underlying medical condition in cases where formication is a symptom may help to lessen the sensation. For instance, doctors may prescribe drugs like gabapentin or pregabalin, which are used to treat neuropathic pain.
  • Therapy: For people with stress, anxiety, or somatic symptom disorder, psychological interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful. Therapy can assist patients in understanding and managing their symptoms, creating coping mechanisms, and lessening the distress brought on by the itch.
  • Lifestyle changes: Making certain lifestyle adjustments can also help to lessen the symptoms of formication. Techniques for managing stress, regular exercise, sound sleep practices, and avoiding triggers like caffeine or alcohol are a few examples of these changes.

Home remedies to alleviate formication

Some home remedies can help temporarily relieve the symptoms of formication in addition to formal treatment methods. Although these treatments are not meant to replace medical advice, they might provide some solace to those who are feeling their skin crawl. Here are some recommendations:

  • Cooling techniques: Putting on a cool compress or taking a cool shower can calm the skin and lessen how intensely it feels like it's crawling.
  • Relaxation techniques: Practice relaxation techniques to help with stress and anxiety reduction, which may help with formication symptoms. Examples of relaxation techniques include deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga.
  • Skin care: Keeping the skin moisturized and clean can help reduce itchiness and irritation. It's also crucial to stay away from abrasive soaps and other items that might irritate the skin.

When to seek medical help for formication

Even though mild formication might not need immediate medical care, there are some circumstances where it is wise to call for help right away. These consist of:

  • Severe symptoms: It's important to consult a healthcare professional for evaluation and proper management if the formication sensation is severe, persistent, and significantly affecting daily life.
  • Accompanying symptoms: Formication may signal an underlying medical emergency that needs immediate attention if it is accompanied by other alarming symptoms like weakness, numbness, changes in vision, or difficulty speaking.
  • Worsening symptoms: In order to effectively address the underlying cause of formication, medical intervention may be required if the symptoms are getting worse over time or are not improving in response to previous treatments or home remedies.


Those who experience formication, also known as the skin crawling sensation, may find it to be a distressing experience. Understanding the root causes and available therapies can help manage this peculiar occurrence. Seeking professional assistance is crucial in deciding the best course of action, regardless of whether it is connected to an underlying medical condition or psychological factors.

Consult a healthcare provider if you or someone you know is suffering from formication to learn more about the potential causes and available treatment options. It is possible to reduce the discomfort brought on by the skin crawling sensation and enhance general wellbeing with the right diagnosis and treatment.


  1. Wong, J., & Koo, J. (2013). Delusions of parasitosis. Indian Journal of Dermatology, 58(1), 49. ‌
  2. Thakkar, A., Ooi, K. G-J., Assaad, N., & Coroneo, M. (2015). Delusional infestation: are you being bugged? Clinical Ophthalmology, 967. ‌
  3. Ansari, M. N., & Bragg, B. N. (2021). Delusions Of Parasitosis. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. ‌


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