At first glance, psoriasis and scabies can easily be mistaken for one another. If you take a closer look, there are clear differences. Keep reading to understand the differences, as well each condition’s risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options.

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune skin disease. It causes your body’s immune system to attack itself, which leads to the rapid build-up of skin cells. This build-up of cells causes scaling on the skin’s surface.

Psoriasis is not contagious. Touching a psoriatic lesion on another person won’t cause you to develop the condition.

There are several types of psoriasis, but the most common type is plaque psoriasis.

Scabies, on the other hand, is a contagious skin condition caused by Sarcoptes scabiei, a microscopic, burrowing mite. A scabies infection begins when a parasitic female mite burrows into your skin and lays eggs. After the eggs hatch, the larvae move to your skin’s surface where they spread and continue the cycle.

Psoriasis strikes people of all ages, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or lifestyle. Several factors may increase your risk for psoriasis, such as:

  • a family history of psoriasis
  • a severe viral infection, such as HIV
  • a severe bacterial infection
  • a high stress level
  • being overweight or obese
  • smoking

Since scabies is highly contagious, it’s challenging to contain an infestation once it begins. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scabies is passed easily between household members and sexual partners. Your risk of getting scabies increases if you live or work in crowded conditions where close body or skin contact is the norm.

Scabies infections are fairly common in:

  • childcare centers
  • nursing homes
  • extended-care facilities
  • prisons

If you have a compromised immune system or you’re disabled or elderly, you’re at risk of getting another form of scabies called Norwegian scabies. This is a severe form of the disease. Norwegian scabies, also called crusted scabies, results in thick crusts of skin that contain mites and eggs in large numbers. The mites aren’t more potent than other types, but their high numbers make them extremely contagious.

Psoriasis causes thick, red, silvery patches to form on your skin. Lesions may form anywhere on your body, but they’re most common on the:

  • elbows
  • scalp
  • lower back
  • soles of the feet
  • face
  • palms

Other symptoms may include:

  • dry, cracked skin
  • itching
  • burning skin
  • skin soreness
  • pitted nails

Scabies symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction to the mites. If you’ve never had scabies, it can take several weeks for symptoms to appear. If you’ve had scabies and get it again, symptoms may appear within a few days.

Scabies may develop anywhere on the body, but it’s more common on the folds of the skin in adults, such as:

  • between the fingers
  • around the waist
  • armpits
  • inner elbow
  • wrists
  • around the breasts in females
  • the genital area in males
  • shoulder blades
  • buttocks
  • back of the knees

In babies and young children, scabies is often seen in one or more of the following areas:

  • scalp
  • neck
  • face
  • palms
  • soles of the feet

The main symptom of scabies is intense and uncontrollable itching, especially at night. You may also see tiny tracks on the skin made of blisters or pimple-like bumps, which are where the mites have burrowed.

Here are some ways to tell the difference between the two skin conditions:

Lesions may or may not itchLesions are usually intensely itchy
Lesions tend to appear in patchesLesions tend to appear as burrowing trails on the skin
Lesions cause skin flaking and scalingRash typically doesn’t flake and scale
Autoimmune diseaseCaused by a mite infestation
Not contagiousContagious through direct skin contact

Although psoriasis isn’t contagious, it isn’t curable. Treatments are aimed at reducing symptoms and improving the appearance of your skin. Depending on the type and severity of your psoriasis, different treatments may be necessary.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, doctors may use any of these treatments:

  • topical treatments including steroids
  • coal tar
  • ultraviolet (UV) light therapy
  • injected systemic treatment
  • combination therapy

Scabies is easy to cure, but the treatment is messy. You’ll apply a prescription lotion or cream to your entire body and leave it on for several hours, usually overnight. More than one treatment may be necessary to eliminate an infestation. Your doctor may recommend every household member be treated, whether or not they show symptoms.

Remedies, such as using a cool compress, taking antihistamines, and applying calamine lotion, may help relieve your symptoms.

You should see your doctor if:

  • you have any undiagnosed rash that doesn’t respond to self-care remedies
  • you have psoriasis and unusually severe or widespread flare-ups
  • your symptoms worsen or don’t respond to treatment
  • you think you have scabies
  • you’ve been exposed to someone with scabies

See your doctor as soon as possible if you have either scabies or psoriasis and you show signs of infection. These signs can include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • increased pain
  • swelling

Knowing the differences between psoriasis and scabies will help you recognize early symptoms and determine the best course of treatment. Speak with your doctor to learn more about treatment options.