Morgellons disease (MD) is a rare condition that involves fibers appearing underneath the skin or emerging from slow-healing skin sores. People with MD often report feeling stinging, crawling, or burning sensations on their skin.

These symptoms can be painful and long-lasting, affecting quality of life. However, the condition is controversial. While some research has found MD to be infection-based, other studies suggest that it may be purely psychological.

Research is ongoing to better understand MD and identify effective treatment options.

Research from 2018 found that 6 percent of study participants with Lyme disease also had MD. Based on annual Lyme disease diagnoses, the study estimated that there may be over 19,000 cases of MD each year and over 300,000 total MD cases in the United States.

The study noted that MD often occurred in people who:

Other research from 2018 has indicated that MD is a skin disease likely associated with infections from ticks. The disease may also have a psychological aspect. However, more studies are needed to better understand the condition.

The primary symptoms of MD are multicolored fibers appearing under the skin or emerging from sores that are slow to heal. Because the fibers can be red, green, blue, white, or black, they may look like microscopic fibers from clothing.

Another common symptom is the feeling of burning or stinging on the skin. Additional symptoms of MD, which may be similar to those of Lyme disease, include:

The lack of understanding about MD has led to controversy around the condition. Some research suggests that the disease is a psychological issue, while other studies indicate that it’s caused by an infection.

The fibers are also controversial. While some studies indicate that the microscopic fibers are produced by the body out of the proteins keratin and collagen, others believe that the fibers come from clothing.

MD has been poorly understood since it was first identified and named in the 1600s. The childhood skin conditions called “the Morgellons” involved hairs or worms projecting from the skin, sparking debate about their origin.

Both in the past and currently, some people with MD have believed that their skin was infested by parasites. This led to the condition being labeled “delusional parasitosis” in 1946 and the widespread belief that MD is a delusional disorder.

Controversy around the disease is ongoing. A case report from 2019 stated that the majority of medical professionals believe MD is a delusional condition. However, recent research has indicated that the disease may be linked to tick-borne Borrelia burgdorferi infection.

The same study also pointed to a similar disease in animals, bovine digital dermatitis, supporting the idea of MD as an infectious disease. More research is needed to verify the origins of MD.

Research from 2020 described a detailed staging system for MD. Each of the four classes of MD are also labeled with stage A (mild), B (moderate), or C (severe).

The classification of MD is based on the following criteria:

  • Stage 1 (Early localized). Lesions, fibers, or both have existed for under 3 months and are limited to one place on the body.
  • Stage 2 (Early disseminated). Lesions, fibers, or both have existed for under 3 months and can be seen in multiple places on the body.
  • Stage 3 (Late localized). Lesions, fibers, or both have existed for over 6 months and are limited to one place on the body.
  • Stage 4 (Late disseminated): Lesions, fibers, or both have existed for over 6 months and can be seen in multiple places on the body.

Additional stages A, B, and C allow for a more detailed diagnosis:

  • Stage A (mild). The filaments are small and skin cells mostly look normal.
  • Stage B (moderate). There are filaments in the skin as well as calluses. Skin cells may look somewhat abnormal.
  • Stage C (severe). The filaments are more noticeable and you may have skin ulcers (sores). Skin cells are also abnormal.

Suitable, effective treatment options for MD are still unknown. The controversy and lack of understanding around the disease can also make it difficult to get treatment.

If your doctor thinks MD is caused by an infection, they may give you antibiotics and ointments to reduce itching. Since many people with MD have anxiety or depression as well, your treatment may also include mental health medications or counseling.

On the other hand, if your doctor believes the condition is related to a mental health issue, they’ll likely only prescribe psychiatric medications or therapy.

Research has suggested that a holistic approach that treats both the skin disease and your mental health may have positive results.

For the best outcome, it’s important to establish a strong, long-term relationship with a doctor who listens to your concerns.

Home remedies

Currently, there are no standard treatments or products known to cure MD. You can find many home remedies for MD online, but they may not be safe or effective.

If you’re considering trying a treatment you found on your own, it’s best to research it and talk with your doctor first.

People with skin conditions, including MD, may often pick at their skin. Repeated picking can cause or worsen sores and sometimes lead to an infection.

Untreated infections can potentially develop into sepsis. This medical emergency can result in organ failure and death if it isn’t treated.

Many people with MD also have depression or anxiety. Still, more research is needed to determine the connection between these conditions.

Researchers and doctors often disagree about MD, and there’s still a lot to discover about the disease. The controversy and limited understanding of the condition can make it especially hard to cope with it.

It can be helpful connect and share information with others who also have MD. Support groups and other resources can help you stay up to date on current research about MD, give you advice on how to manage it, and provide a community of people with similar experiences.

Support groups may be online or in person, and a few include:

Talking with others with MD may help you better explain the disease to your family, friends, and doctor. You may also learn new ways to manage your symptoms and to advocate for yourself to get the care you need.