Compulsive skin biting, or dermatophagia, is one of a spectrum of body-focused compulsive psychiatric disorders, which may also be categorised as a psychosomatic skin disease, or neurodermatitis.
The most common symptom of skin biting is self-explanatory---the individual bites his skin, typically around the fingernail and cuticle region. Over time, this behaviour can cause bleeding, permanent damage, discolouration, hangnails and callusing.
Research links repetitive, body-focused behaviour to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), as well as body dysmorphic disorder. Early childhood trauma, genetics, neurological imbalances, stress and boredom can be driving forces behind compulsive skin biting. Many sufferers describe an "insatiable itch" or urge, relieved by engaging in biting behaviour.
Compulsive skin biting has physical and emotional implications. Embarrassed by their appearance, individuals might withdraw from work, school and social interaction, in order to avoid public judgment and scrutiny.
Compulsive hair pulling, called trichotillomania; hair eating, or trichotillophagia; skin picking, or dermatillomania; and nail biting, or onychophagia, are disorders closely related to compulsive skin biting.
The primary treatment for any OCD is psychotherapy. Discovering the circumstances surrounding onset, as well as its current triggers, are key to resolving compulsive skin biting. Antidepressants or anxiety medications, as well as support groups, have also shown promise.
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