Morgellons and Medical Skepticism: Fibers Under Your Skin? You’re Crazy.

Warning: This post is NSFWS (Not Safe For Weak Stomachs). My parents were both nurses, and my mom was in nursing school while I was a kid, so I’m accustomed to discussing body stuff openly. Dinnertime conversation when I was growing up might have included a story about an alcoholic patient whose colon rolled out of his sphincter (“looked like a red blooming rose,” said my mom), and whenever I or one of my siblings was sick, we would have to give a rundown of our symptoms to my parents (post-nasal drip, yellow phlegm, exactly what kind of diarrhea we might be suffering from and how frequently, etc.). I’ve learned that many, if not most, people aren’t comfortable talking about all of that—especially during a meal!—so consider yourself warned. Nothing in this post is too squicky (I think), but some of the linked pages have bizarre images.

And another note: I kind of regret the fact that one of the first things I’m posting here might make you think I’m a crazy person. It’s timely for me, so I’m just going to put this out there.

Last month I was having a casual conversation about random stuff with my boyfriend Ian. My younger sister recently tried to dig a strange blue speck (a microchip, we joked) out of her arm, so we got to discussing anomalies in skin, the body’s largest organ. I mentioned to Ian that I’d had a larger-than-average blackhead on my abdomen for at least five years. It wasn’t bothering me, and I’d half-heartedly prodded it a few times over the years, but it was still there. He offered to get it for me. (How sweet of him, right?)

After a couple of manual attempts, he bounded off to get his super-sharp tweezers from the bathroom cabinet. We chatted about other things while I lay on my back and he poked and squeezed the strange spot.

A minute later, he said, “Hey, this is weird. It’s like there’s a thread in here.” He started picking at it (occasionally over my vocalized ouches) and said that it looked like it was a bunch of…fibers. He picked some out and held them up in the light to show me, but the position of the lamp made it difficult for me to make much out. I sort of thought he was full of it—I mean, really, what the heck was he talking about? Then I remembered that I’d read something online somewhere about a weird “disease” called Magellan’s or Morganon’s or something where people said they had bunches of fibers under their skin, but I also remembered reading that the fibers were probably from clothing and that the rest was in their heads. I mentioned this to Ian.

He managed to snag a sizeable piece and held it up for me to take a look. It was white, very thin, and A CENTIMETER LONG. WTF?! He said, “This is the sort of thing I’ve been picking at, but they keep breaking off into small pieces. This is really interesting! But what is it?” Um. WTF again.

I replied, “We should look up that Morganon’s thing tomorrow. But really, it’s a made-up disease. At least that’s what Wikipedia implied.” We didn’t have a good way to save the weird fibers at that moment, so I stuck one on a piece of tape and soon went to sleep.

Ian came in the next morning and said, “Oh, I looked up the thing you mentioned—Morgellons. You were right. It looks like the medical establishment thinks it’s all in the patients’ heads. By the way, when did you have Lyme Disease?” A year ago, I said. “And how long have you had this dot?” At least five years, I said, since I remember it being there before I moved to New York. “Oh, well, apparently a lot of the people who have Morgellons also had Lyme; there’s a big correlation.”

“I had Lyme Disease when I was fourteen too,” I responded, starting to feel a little freaked out that THERE MIGHT BE WEIRD FIBERS GROWING UNDER MY SKIN.

Off to Wikipedia we went. Here’s some of what we read (emphasis mine):

“Most doctors, including dermatologists and psychiatrists, regard Morgellons as a manifestation of known medical conditions, including delusional parasitosis.”

“Many dermatologists refute the suggestion that this is an actual disease but instead indicate that many of these patients have psychological problems or other common skin disorders.”

Symptoms associated with delusional parasitosis…are common side-effects of many prescription drugs or drug abuse. The sensations are real, but the attribution of the sensations to unknown parasites and the collection of fibers is part of the delusion.”

Morgellons patients usually self-diagnose on the Internet…

…a patient’s belief in some of these oftentimes unscientific sites online may preclude their trust in the evidence-based approaches…

…the Internet is important in spreading and supporting ‘bizarre’ disease beliefs…

“…the ‘World Wide Web has become the incubator for mass delusion and it (Morgellons) seems to be a socially transmitted disease over the Internet.’”

“Although an apparent association of the condition with the presence of Lyme disease has been reported…further research will be needed to help resolve the validity of Morgellons disease.”

“…many patients with Morgellons disease have positive Western blots for Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease…”

The links in the “See also” section of the article weren’t much more encouraging:

  • Conspiracy theory
  • Delusional parasitosis
  • Munchausen syndrome
  • Somatoform disorder
  • Psychosis

Conclusion at this point: I had fibers in my skin that were the result of a delusion spread by the Internets! They’re not real; it’s all in my head! And my boyfriend’s too!

There was also a link to the Wikipedia article on the Morgellons Research Foundation, so we checked that out. The last sentence of the article reads, “The MRF and the subject of Morgellons have been a repeated topic on the popular conspiracy radio program Coast to Coast AM.” Great. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t the one who pulled fibers out of my skin; otherwise I might have started believing that I was a paranoid delusional conspiracy theorist hypochondriac.

Later at work, I told a few people about the weird fibers pulled out of my tummy. The first person was grossed out even before I reached the good parts of the story. Before I described how the strange fibers looked to the second coworker, he said, “Nah, that’s just an ingrown hair. It’s not a weird disease. I get those all the time. C’mon, be skeptical. It’s nothing special.” But I asked if his ingrown hairs are clear or white, thin, and in weird thread-like bundles. Apparently, they aren’t.

A third coworker remembered seeing an article on Morgellons in the most recent issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine (March/April 2011). Exciting! We fetched an issue. The one-page article by noted skeptic Benjamin Radford, “The Mysterious Morgellons Malady,” is a summary of some of the same research found in the Wikipedia article. Ben’s piece ends with the following:

Indeed, “At least one scientist—albeit not an expert in the field—is taking it seriously. ‘Morgellons patients have masses of dark fibers visible at x60 magnification under the unbroken skin, while unaffected individuals do not,’ says Randy Wymore, assistant professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University. ‘That took away any possibility that this was not a real thing.’” Other researchers have concluded that the fibers come from mundane sources such as clothing, carpeting, or pets. Perhaps Wymore and other researchers will find good evidence of a real disease, but until then, Occam’s razor principle suggests that Morgellons is a mental disorder. (highlighting mine)

Conclusion at this point: Morgellons is probably made up, and if you think you have it, you’re crazy.

Bummer.

Typing “Morgellons” into Google was also disheartening. The first page of search results includes a link to a YouTube video titled “Is Morgellons Disease Caused By Chemtrail Spraying?” Yep, frickin’ chemtrails. *sigh*

I’m glad I took the time to watch the video, though. Disregarding the misleading title, I found that it’s actually a CNN report featuring Randy Wymore, the Morgellons researcher mentioned in Radford’s article. Wymore works with other scientists at Oklahoma State University who are pulling weird fibers out of the skin of Morgellons sufferers and taking a good look:

From the video at 1:33:

“Now they’ve seen about 25 patients, and the OSU doctors are convinced Morgellons is real. But the medical establishment says they are wrong. ‘Morgellons is not real…it’s all in their heads. This is somebody that’s picking at themselves.’ Dr. Noah Scheinfeld is assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University.”

From 2:21:

“Still, no matter who you believe, there was one question no one here could answer for us.
[Reporter:] You’ve looked at these fibers under the microscope. What do you think they are?
[Wymore:] Oh, I have absolutely no clue.”

They also interviewed a biologist at SUNY Stony Brook who found a gene inside the skin of Morgellons patients that only exists in plants (!!). Fascinating!

So, what should one think? How skeptical should I be? I’ve seen with my own eyes some strange fibers that were pulled out from my skin, and I have a witness. Should I be skeptical of the medical skeptics and believe that Morgellons is real? Or should I be skeptical of my own experiences?

Here’s what I actually know:

  • There were unusual-looking, thin, clear or white fibers just under the surface of my skin not too far from my navel.
  • I’d never seen anything like them.
  • I found a few pictures online, including the first two images on this page (NSFWS), that resembled what I saw. The condition described was called Morgellons Disease.
  • Many Morgellons sufferers also had Lyme Disease. I had Lyme Disease, twice.
  • I do not have many of the Morgellons symptoms listed (skin-crawling sensations, collections of lesions, chronic fatigue, other odd black spots, etc.).
  • Morgellons is thought to be a mental disorder by many (or most) in the medical establishment.
  • The fibers are thought by some to be from clothing or other “mundane” sources.
  • I still do not know what the heck those fibers coming out of me were.
  • Best as I can tell, there are scientists out there researching Morgellons who don’t yet know what the Morgellons fibers are either.

Here’s what I believe:

  • There are some individuals who think that they have unknown fibers coming out of their skin. Some of those people are delusional.
  • Since I haven’t found weird fibers anywhere else on my person, and I don’t have the other Morgellons symptoms listed, I shouldn’t be concerned (yet). But it’s wise for me to keep my eyes open for other skin anomalies and any new research (from reliable, scientific sources—no chemtrail theories!) on Morgellons.

As I mentioned above, my parents were both nurses, and I know that conditions aren’t always easy to diagnose. I also know that doctors are reluctant to give unusual diagnoses. When I was a teenager, I visited multiple doctors for years complaining of pain, numbness, and tingling in my hands and wrists before insisting on the EMGs that finally diagnosed bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome ten years after my initial complaints—because doctors thought I was too young to have CPT. I’ve heard stories from people who have been diagnosed by some doctors with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, but have been told repeatedly by others that it’s all in their heads. I’m personally comfortable ignoring my case for now—unless I see some other strange specks on my skin some day, at which time I’ll check to see if freaky fibers are coming out of them. As for Morgellons, I’m fascinated to see what the research on the fibers shows in the future.

I’m including a couple of links below, both skeptical and skeptical-of-the-skeptics, for those who would like to read more.

Resources that seem to support the existence of Morgellons:

Skeptical perspectives (or, “Morgellons? You’re Crazy!”):

Debbie is keenly interested in secularism, skepticism, magic and deception, LGBTQ issues, language and perception, and general geekery. She works at the Center for Inquiry as director of outreach, director of African Americans for Humanism, and intro-doer for Point of Inquiry. You can find her on Twitter: @debgod.

47 Comments

  1. This is probably the sanest post I’ve seen about Morgellons from the viewpoint of someone who hasn’t outright dismissed it as just a delusion. Well written and certainly your conclusions are entirely evidence based. I wish you luck in figuring out this as yet unexplained phenomenon!

  2. A little movie about a man and his boil you really need to see. “How to get ahead in advertising”.

  3. Deb – I think it’s important to put this into perspective. You do not have the syndrome that people are calling Morgellons. You had one spot with strange fibers in it. Your experience has very limited relevance to Morgellons.

    You also seemed to gloss over that what people call Morgellons can be “other common skin disorders.” I don’t think anyone would suggest that you are delusional – it’s just not relevant to what you are describing.

    By your account you had a large blackhead for years. This could be a number of things, but since you had it for years it is likely that clothing fibers simply worked there way in there.

    There is no reason to worry, or be vigilant, or monitor Morgellons research. Your story is actually a good example of how an everyday, benign, if a bit weird, phenomenon turns into a concern about some mysterious disease and questions about the medical establishment.

    Now, imagine if you weren’t skeptical, or if you had a tendency to be neurotic. Hysteria and paranoia on the internet might encourage you to parlay that weird blackhead into a full blown disorder. Your story also demonstrates how if you look for corroborating evidence (like a history of Lyme) it’s not hard to find. Confirmation bias can be a powerful convincer.

  4. Your post made me remember a mostly repressed memory of a skin disease (which I can’t remember the name of, but I think was viral, like warts) my daughters had when they were 5 and 2 respectively. At various points on their torsos they had rashes of bumps that looked exactly like white heads, but they weren’t – the part that looked like the head of the pimple was actually a solid core of material up to a cm long, that we had to pull out with tweezers (gross!) in order to make the condition go away. Also, until the condition was completely gone, the girls could not share baths with anyone else. From diagnosis to final victory took about two months of daily checking for bumps and teasing out these cores with tweezers. Yuck!

  5. As for the supposed Lyme Disease correlation, note that you had the mysterious blackhead before the tick bite that infected you with Lyme. That’s probably a red herring.

    Also, I’d expect a medical doctor like Wymore not to be able to identify a clothing fiber under a microscope. Why would he? He’s only trained to distinguish medically-significant objects through microscopy, in which category clothing fibers do not fall. This no different from a trained military plane spotter reporting Venus as a UFO — unless they’re also astronomers, plane spotters can still be tricked by unfamiliar celestial objects.

    Finally, I think you’re making too much of your coworker’s ingrown hairs not being identical to the fiber you pulled out. Does the hair on your head match his? Like, exactly? If not, why would you expect an ingrown body hair — which by definition is growing abnormally anyway — in your body to match one in his?

  6. I sometimes have hairs that are white and also sometimes have hairs that grow in bunches. I have had ingrown hairs that were bunches, but not ingrown hairs that were white. But it’s really just a matter of time as more of my hairs will inevitably turn white someday. I also occasionally pull cat hairs out of my nose ring hole. *shudders*

    And, @jrpowell: that sounds like Keratosis Pilaris. But it’s not contagious or viral.

  7. I think it’s pretty safe to say you found something that got embedded in your skin, and not a disease.

    Reasons: You said it was stable for upwards of 5 years, showed no swelling or tenderness and was limited to a single location.

    The way you described the fragility of the material makes me think it’s either something that’s been broken down or dessicated by your body (both normal responses to foreign material)… was it dry?

    I have no idea what would create the bundling effect though. That’s really the only part that stands out as odd to me.

    (Not a doctor, just raised by some.)

  8. @Steve Novella: I’m always glad to read your perspective.

    The spot isn’t technically a blackhead, although it appears similar to one in that the surface part is black. (I say “appears” because it healed to look about the same as it did before.)

    I was going to tag on a couple paragraphs about confirmation bias and the idea that being presented with evidence/information contrary to our beliefs can actually reinforce those beliefs (http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/how_facts_backfire/), but the post was already too long! Perhaps I’ll do a follow-up post. I hoped that what I wrote, including my recollection of events and the list of what I actually know, would show that I don’t believe I have Morgellons. I don’t have all the symptoms. As you mention, by telling a story about my experience, I hoped to demonstrate how easy it might be to fall into the sort of Internet self-diagnosis that the doctors and psychiatrists warned of.

    (But I still think that if I find another largish black dot on my skin, and I feel brave enough to attack it with tweezers, I’ll check for fibers. Not because I’m crazy like that, but because I already saw some pulled out of one spot on me. And hey, they might be clothing fibers. When faced with the choice to ignore it or to investigate deeper, though, I think I’ll grab the tweezers.)

    As for keeping an eye on Morgellons research, I’m still fascinated! Maybe the OSU team will find that there are weird planty fibers in people’s skin! Maybe they’ll discover that they’re all just clothing fibers—which somehow get into people’s skin! I didn’t know clothing fibers could even do that. Would they be more harmful if they were polyester, rather than cotton? Perhaps someone will research that! Or the dermatologists and psychologists will show conclusively (except to the chemtrail crowd) that the condition is primarily psychological, and/or the fibers have mundane sources. That’s pretty interesting stuff to me.

  9. @Joshua: You said, “As for the supposed Lyme Disease correlation, note that you had the mysterious blackhead before the tick bite that infected you with Lyme.”

    I had Lyme when I was 14 years old too, so the black spot occurred after I had Lyme at least once–not that I’m trying to defend the idea that I have Morgellons, btw. I just wanted to point out that since I had Lyme before, the connection wasn’t totally unreasonable. :)

    • For your info, I had what looked like an infected boil very near just above the naval. after popping it and looking in the hole, I became curious of the white spot in the center. I got ahold of it with a pair of tweezers and pulled out a bundle of 8 to 10 black hairs about and inch long, all neatly assembled next to each other, untwisted or knotted together in any way. It was really facinating. Since then, as the sore spot has healed up, I have massaged the area and gotten several more 1 inch long black hairs out of the sore spot with the scab removed. The spot is about completely healed over now, but I think there is still a bundle of something there beneath the skin, but too deep to puss up and create an infected boil. I’m thinking that whatever’s in there needs to be taken out by lancing open the area and then removing the ingrowing hair follicle(s). What do you think?

  10. Sometimes the sebum in a pimple winds around and around like a hair or other fiber because it has nowhere else to go inside the pore. if it’s a waxy sebum it will hold together in a stringy shape, and it’s white/ clear. if you have a pore that’s on the large side, debris can get inside.

  11. Interesting article.

    I do occasionally get ingrowing hairs that are white. I also have one area on my chin which occasionally produces what looks (even close up) like a very thick single black hair. If I roll it between finger and thumb, however, it turns out to made up of 8 or so “normal” sized hairs, with some sort of white, sebaceous substance between them.

    This “Super Hair” also looks like a blackhead prior to being rooted out.

    What I’m saying is, I can’t believe I’ve got Morgellons ;-)

  12. @shasta: I had never heard that before. I just figured over time, the sebum would get absorbed back into the body. I wonder if in a long-term sorta-blackhead, the trapped sebum could become fibrous…That sounds like it’s worth checking out. Will Google more later.

  13. Debbie:
    Sometimes it’s helpful to consider other possibilities:
    1: Dermoid cysts are a type of teratoma that sometimes aren’t discovered until you’re an adult. They can contain mature hair or other “adult” tissues that you wouldn’t normally expect from a blackhead.

    2: The fibers worked their way into your skin and the blackhead formed around them because they blocked a sebaceous gland.

    The other day I was pulling little black fibers from my fingertips for a few minutes wondering what they were until I realized that I had spent the previous day lathing PVC and teflon. Small pieces had clearly worked their way under my skin.

    Sometimes I look at my fingers under a dissecting scope and you’d be surprised how tiny bits of dirt and debris can work their way into the skin.

    3: You were misidentifying other common substances from the skin. Most people don’t spend excessive amounts of time taking parts of their skin apart and examining them under the microscope, so common structures might seem unusual. A sweat gland or small blood vessel might match your description, but might not be easily identifiable.

  14. wait and see if it comes back. I’m thinking it will. Then go to nice dermatologist, and he’ll probablylook and laugh and go “oh I know what THAT is”.

    But thinking it will grow back…let us know!

  15. Is it bad that when I hear about Morgellons, I jump straight to Scott Sigler’s Infected and Contagious books/podcasts?

    In these the blue fibres are the first sign of infestation with an alien parasite, all lovingly described. (Eugh!) Most morgellons cases are the psychogenic type though according to the in-novel CDC investigation. Worth a look if you like hard scifi biology.

  16. hmmmm, fibers in skin… long, white and fragile looking… maybe you’re wired for optimum data transmission?

    I, for one, welcome our new cylon overlords.

  17. Do you still have the fibers? Can you post magnified pictures?

    This reminds me of a time, a few years ago, when I looked at my legs and suddenly freaked out because they were FULL OF HOLES! There were tiny little holes all over my legs!

    Then I realized that there was a hair coming out of each hole. I had been freaking out about my own hair follicles because I had never really noticed them before.

  18. @jonathanberman: Cool! Clarification, though: you said I might have been “misidentifying” a common substance from the skin–yes, as “weird”, “strange” and “unknown to me”. But that’s not a misidentification! The things we pulled out *were* unusual and unknown to me. Beyond that, I wasn’t able to identify them.

    @kittynh: It healed to look nearly exactly as it did before. I’m thinking now of going back in with tweezers, grabbing whatever’s in there, recruiting a friend with access to a good microscope (maybe @jonathanberman since he’s in my town), and taking a look, since I’m curious. Jon, are you game?

    @rocko: I don’t believe I do either! But as Novella said, it’s easy to jump to wrong conclusions based on limited information and confirmation bias. I was hoping to show that in the post, as well as the fact that based on what I do know, I should not (and do not) conclude that I have Morgellons.

  19. Why not just go visit your regular physician or clinic and have a doctor look at it?

  20. Interesting account Deb. There is more to Morgellons if you scrape away the weirdness and conspiracy theories. Your lack of symptoms is a good sign.

    Here in the UK we are campaigning and supporting sufferers etc. We are sure it’s an infection with significant secondary pyscological disturbance. Time will tell.

    Here’s an overview of research as of 2011:
    http://www.morgellonsuk.org.uk/research.htm

  21. @Deb:

    Oh, absolutely!

    I was been ruminating on this tonight; I wonder how often Confirmation Bias is down to one – possibly small but precise – detail. In someone with a similar medical history (but of a less sceptical bent), for example, it could have been the Lyme Disease correlation. Reading about Morgellons: “hmmm, this is interesting, but….woah, Lyme Disease? There *has* to be something in this”.

  22. Haha, my best friend has this one weird thick, fibrous white hair (and her head hair is jet black) that grows on her arm. And if she pulls it out, it returns. It’s very strange; we’ve been referring to it as her “creepy single white hair” for years.

    Maybe you could ask a dermatologist? Now I’m just fascinated to know if it’s relatively common to have weird hairs like that. But yeah, looks like Morgellons has been ruled out as a real thing.

  23. I get ingrown hairs in my beard all the time. Every so often, a hair I extract is white and multi-stranded. There is no pain or discomfort involved, usually. I don’t know if they would stay there for years if i left them alone. I take them out because they are on my face.
    Years ago my brother had a pet dalmatian puppy. I remember him complaining about its unusual hair and the problems its shedding posed. Apparently one stiff shed hair drove itself into his bare foot. So foreign fibers may embed themselves into one’s skin from time to time.

  24. Why can’t the fiber that was pulled out before (or next time) be analyzed to find out what it is? There might not be enough to extract DNA to see if it your own hair or identify animal, but it should be able to be determined what it is. No?

  25. Did you ever get the fibre looked at?

    Speaking for myself (warning – gooey stuff ahead) I sometimes get some really epic ingrown hairs.

    When I pull them out they come up all curly, I can feel them unraveling. It used to freak me out in a cool sort of way – I could pull out centimeters and centimeters from what looked at first to be a teeny tiny little bit of hair.

    Out of curiosity I once took a scalpel to an ingrown – don’t squirm, nothing deep, just the surface layer of my skin. What I found was that the hair was all bundled up inside a tiny, pussy packet in my skin.

    My best guess is that the tip of the hair is getting blocked at the surface of my skin, but the root keeps growing – so the hair bunches up behind the tip. Whatever relevant parts of my immune system care about this sort of thing obviously get fucked off with the gradually building lump of hair, so they cling to it in an effort to make it go away. As time goes on, a little packet of puss grows around the bundle. It gets inflamed and starts to hurt – so I finally notice it and pull the bastard out.

    In my case the hairs are always thick and black and the head of the ingrown is white and pussy. This differs from your case, but perhaps it’s not all that big a difference.

    I can get epic ingrown with my thick heavy hair fibers, why would it be so much more far-fetches that someone else could get an epic ingrown from a thinner, paler white strand of hair?

    As I understand it everyone has thin white hairs over nearly all of their skin – they’re just too small and fine to notice most of the time.

    Then, perhaps because the hair is finer (or maybe just differences in our two bodies) your immune system doesn’t get all pissed off the way mine does, so you get a tiny blackhead and no puss. Then there’s no inflammation, so you don’t notice it for five years – and the hair grows and grows and grows.

    I have no training, of course – so this is really just a towering pile of speculation and hearsay… But I think it’s fairly plausible. I have a mechanism and everything. ^_^

    I’d be really interested to find out what that fiber turns out to be under a microscope.

  26. Kudos for posting a detailed examination of a subject you’re in the middle of researching. We all have oddities in our life that we try to approach skeptically, and being brave enough to put your cards on the table is commendable!

    Yay brains!

  27. I have been expeirencing this so called morgellons for the last 13 years maybe longer but the spots started then. It happens about every 3 years and lasting for a year then in 3 years again, but each time has gotten worse. In my researches I have wondered if anyone else with this has had cats or a flee problem just before it starts? Really need some feed back on this for my research. Thank you. My recent theory is ‘Can Lyme mutate or combine with a parasite that can live in the body?’ (toxoplasma gondii)

  28. I have long been fascinated by Mogellons, in part because it is so polarizing. There is very little middle ground to be found outside this post, it’s either ‘It’s real!!!’ or ‘It’s delusion!!!’, but the latter group never seems to offer any more hard evidence than the former, and for a disease with a clearly physical component there is a lot of ‘Well it’s probably…’ statements.

    Personally, I think there is something there worth looking more into, but that it should be done with, well, skepticism. But luckily we have Science!

    So, yeah, subbing to this post and look forward to followups!

  29. Whew! Lots of good comments here. Skin—can be weird, right? (No wonder people do drugs and get lost looking at the back of their hand or the pores on their face…so I’ve heard.) We see our skin all the time, but we don’t, and there’s a lot of stuff going on there. Fascinating stuff.

    I cleaned my desk last weekend and lost the piece of tape I’d stuck the one fiber on. I checked everywhere, grrr. But I think I’ll grab tweezers in the near future and pull out more for examination under a microscope. I’m pretty sure my physician won’t do random DNA testing on a strange thing I bring in, especially when there’s not pain or another sort of problem involved, so I’m not sure how far my examination efforts can go. Best I’m hoping for is finding someone local with access to an awesome microscope (maybe one at the university) and taking a better look (and some pictures).

    @josimmons: Awesome—links to actual research articles! I just glanced at a few but will read further over the weekend.

    @Scopes Monkey Matt: I really appreciate the comment. I had been sitting on this for a week before posting today, but I figured the experience was interesting enough to share.

  30. @mistwolf: You nailed it — “polarizing” is right. The CNN report demonstrates exactly what you describe: we see researchers who say there are actually fibers but they don’t know what they are, and we see a dermatologist who is not only convinced they’re just clothing fibers, he also seems convinced that he could never be wrong on that.

    But there’s Science! And Skepticism! And By Those Powers Combined™, maybe we’ll see research in the future that gives us better evidence than the ‘Well it’s probably…’ statements floating around now. (I’m still categorically dismissing chemtrails as a possibility, though.)

  31. @jrpowell:

    I believe what you’re describing is called Molluscum contagiosum in latin. Or “Mollusker” in swedish.
    No real cure exists except letting the little feckers heal over time, as far as I know.

  32. Anecdotally: I’ve pulled some similar-looking fibers out from my skin where I had an ingrown hair. The fibers weren’t the hair (although that was in there too) but I assumed they were just clothes fibers that had worked their way in somehow (especially as they were dark fibers – much like all my clothes are made of).

  33. Can I just chime in that so often the posts on any blog are things it can be assumed the readership will agree with or have an overwhelmingly positive reaction to – Love that you took the chance to bring something more interesting to table. Likin’ your posts mightily already.

  34. @Danarra: Thanks so much! (And I swear my next one will be fewer than 2,000 words.)

  35. Interesting article! For me the topic has an obvious appeal: I was diagnosed 13 years ago with an illness that was looked upon as a mental disorder but attitudes are now shifting (it is always strange to skim over this story because these attitudes have profoundly framed the condition and my life).

    I have no strong feelings either way about what Morgellons is, but it is undeniable that there are and have been many organic conditions that have been treated (dismissed?) as mental illnesses.

  36. There is a difference between “it is all in your head” and “you are misattributing the cause or misinterpreting”. I suspect that most of these patients have genuine symptoms. Even if one assumes that Morgellons does not exist, and the patients are jumping to conclusions when they in fact have ingrown hairs, teratomas, parasites, etc., it does not follow that patients are lying about their symptoms. The symptoms are real, the issue is the pet theories about their causes and what they are. To give an analogy, my mother loves to assume that any health problem I have is the result of my having been bit by a poisonous snake while I was a small child. No, I did not get hashimotos due to snake bite, but my symptoms were and are very real. The problem is access to doctors, particularly those willing to sit down and have a detailed and respectful discussion with a patient over concerns, is difficult. This dismissive attitude of assuming the patient is making up symptoms does not help the problem, rather, it feeds it.

  37. Interesting discussion of Morgellons over at Science Based Medicine:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=12499

  38. Debbie, I had almost this exact same thing happen. I had a spot on my body that had been there for years before I finally decided to tackle it. It had a LONG, very thin white white in it that was curled in on itself a whole bunch. I just assumed that it was an ingrown hair, and that maybe some quirk of being ingrown for so long had bleached it or something.

  39. I found this article because of my own ‘fiber problem’. Right away my search came up with Morgellons, Morgellons, and Morgellons. And a bunch of ‘all natural, homeopathic’ cures, that made me roll my eyes.
    My fibers are showing up in my hair. They are white, an inch or so long, and break easily when you pull at them. There are tons in my hairbrush, and you can see them fly out when I brush or comb. They’re not my own hair, and they’re not pet hair.
    I also get the creepy sensation on my scalp, and itching. It’s not head lice, I’ve been checked thoroughly for that. It’s not dandruff. I’ve used the anti-fungal type shampoos, and it’s made no difference.
    Doctor after doctor has not listened to what I have to say, so I am left with self-diagnosing. I am glad to find another rational person who is trying to figure out what it wrong with them.

    • @amethyst42: I can’t believe someone has had the same experience as I have had. I have been going through this for two years now and researching almost daily to no avail! So frustrating! Did you ever find out what you had? I would love to know. Everyone in my house, including my 12 yr old daughter thinks I am nuts. But I’m not. I have all the same symptoms you describe with the hairs and then some. Lesions, dark plaque-like spots on arms and thighs and one on upper back and ever behind ears. Did you have the hair problem just on your head or did you also have it on your arms and legs, etc? Please, please, let me know. I am desperate.

  40. It’s an ingrown hair you had. I get them often that have white hair that is mostly decayed by my body’s immune systemi assume. I also get ingrown hairs that are white when removed but if allowed to remain attached to the root darken within a few days tony normal hair color.I also have this happen with reddish tinted hairs that also darken to normal hair color, which is dark brown. I think it has to do with the duration the hair has been buried under your skin. But I’m no doctor. Just a guy who knows a spade when he sees one.

  41. Yer not crazy, nor is your boyfriend.

    I just pulled a fiberous strand out of a growth on the inside of my Mothers ear. In recent years a growth has formed on the upper part inside her ear. She’s been to a skin doctor and they dismissed it as a wart. But in our opinion it is not. Anyways it hurts her every so often. So she just had me look at it to see if it was infected. I said no after seeing that it was not red or inflamed, but I noticed there was a slight blackish speck that was raised enough for me to grab it with my fingernails, as I pulled on it, it pulled out in this twine like fiberous strand about a 1/4 inch in length. It was white almost translucent like strands that looked like twine. We, me, her and my father all inspected it under a large lighted magnifying glass. They’d not seen anything like it before buy I personally have pulled similar hairs from my breast before. It is my personal guess that it stems from a dysfunctional hair duct for the extremely fine hair in those sensitive locations, that perhaps rather than growing out & replacing with new, that it just gathered up within the duct and started to protrude to where we could grab and pull it out. There were a few more blackish/bluish specks on the spot in her ear, but I am unable to pull those out at this time. If I can get photos of both her ear and the twine like fibers I removed then I will & share them.

  42. I have had these fibers for years. My husband pulls them out with tweezers. They are nearly all on my back. They don’t cause any problems except they itch horribly. No they are not ingrown hairs, they are not messed up black-heads or pimples. I wish I knew more about them. But I do know they are real and not fibers from my clothing. Last night my husband pulled out about 6-8 and quit as he didn’t want to pull out any more. Sometimes he can scratch the skin off and pull them with his nails, sometimes it requires tweezers. They are always in clusters of about 6 or so very, very fine white/clear strands. Oh, never had lyme disease….. :)

  43. I thought the end of the video was awful. I don’t think the people who think they have Morgellons are faking it or deliberately lying about it, at least for the most part. I think it is more like people who think they’ve seen an alien spaceship, or whatever. (I don’t want to use the term UFO because any object someone sees in the sky and can’t identify is literally a UFO. I mean the cases where people see something and don’t know what it is and decide its a spaceship or a secret government program or has some other non-mundane explanation.) The vast majority of these cases, the witnesses honestly believe they saw what they are reporting. They are just wrong, confused, often suffering from confirmation bias and unwittingly committing various logical fallacies.

    The CNN report doesn’t mention any of this and makes it sound like the medical establishment is just callously dismissing these people as delusional. To the extent that any individual doctor is doing that, and to all the people convinced they have Morgellons disease, this should be a learning opportunity. Everyone should increase their knowledge of psychological biases, logical fallacies and the scientific method, both doctors and patients alike.

    Morgellons should be a wedge issue for skepticism. If the Discovery Institute can do it, why not us? It should be easy, we have science, logic and facts on our side ;-)

  44. I found your page just now searching google for ‘lots of small white hairs coming out of a spot’. After looking in the mirror I again studied the small skin coloured mole as I think of it and seeing that it’s looking like it’s growing bigger as it did around 10-11 years ago, before that I don’t know when it appeared.
    What I thought was a spot growing under the surface of my left cheek an inch from my nose wouldn’t go away and as there was no head or black spot I just squeezed it over a couple of days and it created a head.
    Before I was leaving the house on the third day I squeezed for the last time and what seem like a few very small translucent hairs came out with the puss and blood. I was not overly shocked as I assumed there was a logical explanation. I squeezed again and for a good 2 minutes a whole multitude of the white hairs all pretty much the same size came out.
    I was and still am amazed by it, but I decided it was just a strange kind of mole or a defecting pore.
    Now as it gets bigger again I am eager to find out if I am crazy and didn’t know it.

  45. The exact same thing has happened to me! I had what looked like a blocked pore (which I occasionally get) on my torso, about 3 inches from my navel and squeezed it and out came some pus, a small amount of blood and some transparent, very fine hairs, about half a centimetre in length.

    I’d love to find out what the heck it is! eugh!

Add Comment Register



Leave a Reply