Tactile Hallucination! All About Formication, Causes & Treatment

People, at times, undergo stinging, crawling, or burning sensations under or on their skin without the physical presence of an insect or crawling being. This is termed Formication – Tactile Hallucination, or is also referred to as skin crawling.

Formication has multiple causes, starting with one’s mental health causes to medical reasons. Though treatment can be helpful, it can also be challenging because people think of the hallucination to be real.

The term “formication” is derived from “formica,” the Latin name for “ant.” Certain brain areas work together to process signals from the tactile sense or the sense of touch. However, people tend to undergo the phenomenon of tactile hallucinations when those brain areas continue to act like they are still processing signals from the body, even though no such things are present.

The hallucination episode feels real because the brain acts like it is receiving signals. A person facing them struggles to point out the difference between what is real and what is fake. People feel an uncontrollable — and immediate urge to pick or scratch the affected area’s skin. This often leads to a skin-picking habit or causes injuries to the affected skin and the tissues beneath.

Common Causes Of Formication?

According to a 2017 research, the difference between formication and delusional infestation is that the people suffering from the latter don’t believe they are sick or ill because of the sensation of bugs crawling their skin. If you know someone dealing with formication and are trying to understand the causes, here is how it happens:

Mental Health Conditions Involving Hallucinations And Delusions

Mental health disorders leading to formication possibly include a condition known as ‘psychosis.’ Here, the person “disconnects” from reality. And it happens in two ways.

  • Delusions: Delusions are false beliefs, and a person believes in them strongly, even if others do not believe the same or there is adequate evidence that the belief is untrue. People suffering from formication believe they are infested with insects or parasites. And keep on picking or scratching the affected area, causing more problems.
  • Hallucinations: The person hallucinates insects crawling under or over their skin, causing an itching sensation.

Below is a list of mental health conditions that are the backdrop of the particular disease:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Dermatillomania (skin-picking disorder)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Somatic symptom disorder

Substance Use

In a 2022 overview study, researchers highlighted that cocaine users reported delusional infestation compared to regular people. The doses of cocaine drug made them undergo such an effect. Also, sometimes, ADHD patients prescribed amphetamines undergo an experience of insects crawling over or inside their skin. This is the most common with medicines known as Ritalin or methylphenidate.

Medical Conditions Affecting The Body And The Brain

According to 2019 research, there are several medical conditions that can cause formication. Here is a list of all the conditions:

  • Anemia
  • Hepatitis
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • HIV
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Syphilis
  • Menopause

Treatment Of Formication

The treatment types can vary depending on the base cause. Here is a list of them all:

  • When the cause is a mental condition: When it is a medical condition, treating the disease is all it takes to eliminate formication. However, when it is a chronic disease, things can worsen.
  • When it is a disease: Treating mental health condition that causes formication may stop the symptoms or reduce the severity of the disease.
  • If it is a drug abuse case: If the reason is drug abuse – recreational or prescription, the sensations usually come to a halt once the drug wears off. In the case of prescription drugs, it takes dose adjustments to stop formication or stop the drug and try another. For recreational, the person is required to get rid of their bad habits and stop drug abuse.

Because formication happens suddenly, with so many possible causes, there’s no way to prevent it entirely. However, a consistent approach can help one get rid of the disease.

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