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Symptoms of Pinworms

Learn how to identify the symptoms of pinworms.

The nighttime itching symptoms of pinworms can contribute to insomnia. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
The nighttime itching symptoms of pinworms can contribute to insomnia.

Pinworms are common in the United States, especially among school-age children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Itchiness, trouble sleeping and restlessness are just a few of the varied symptoms of pinworms. This article describes the symptoms of pinworms, as well as treatment options and prevention tips for this unnerving parasitic infection.

Pinworms are parasites that live, feed and reproduce in the human body. A person can contract a pinworm infection by accidentally swallowing pinworm eggs from contaminated surfaces (including their own hands), foods or drinks. After the ingested pinworm eggs hatch, the adult pinworms move to their host's intestines and digestive system.

Common Symptoms of Pinworms

One of the telltale symptoms of pinworms is itching in the anal area. While a person infected with pinworms sleeps, female pinworms move through the intestines and lay their eggs around the anus.

A person with a minor pinworm infestation might not have any symptoms of pinworms. For those with more severe infestations, however, symptoms might include severe itching in the anal or vaginal area. Nighttime itching can also lead to symptoms of insomnia, irritability and restlessness. Some people with pinworms also experience gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, loss of appetite or stomach pain.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Pinworms

Anyone with symptoms of pinworms should see a doctor for treatment. To diagnose a pinworm infection, a doctor will perform a tape test by placing a piece of clear tape on the skin around the patient's anus. If pinworm eggs are present, they'll stick to the tape, and the doctor can view them under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis. The test is usually performed first thing in the morning, and may have to be repeated several times before a formal diagnosis can be made.

Depending on the severity of the pinworm infestation, prescription or over-the-counter anti-parasite medications may be prescribed. Albendazole (Albenza) and Pyrantel (Pin-X) are two antiparasite medications that kill both adult pinworms and their eggs. A doctor might also prescribe a cream or ointment to treat the patient's itchiness.

How to Prevent Pinworms

While antiparasite medications can successfully eliminate pinworms, practicing good hygiene can help lower the risk of contracting the pesky parasites in the first place. Good hygiene includes frequent hand washing, especially after using the bathroom, before eating and after changing a baby's diaper. The hands should be washed thoroughly, and fingernails should be kept clean and short to prevent pinworm eggs from taking up residence. Children and adults alike should avoid scratching the anal area.

Other prevention tips include wearing clean underwear - and clean bed clothes - every day. Bedding and clothes should be washed regularly, and special attention should be paid to cleaning and disinfecting bathroom surfaces.

For more advice on preventing and treating pinworm infections, see a doctor or healthcare professional. The Centers for Disease Control's Pinworm Infection Fact Sheet also has information on symptoms of pinworms and more.

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