Dermatophagia (sufferers can be called wolf-biters) is a type of Impulse Control Disorder andObsessive Compulsive Disorder wherein a sufferer compulsively bites their own skin. Sufferers typically bite the skin around the nails, leading to bleeding and discoloration over time. Some may consume the flesh during an episode.
The behavior associated with skin-biting is not exclusively the compulsory response to anxious/obsessive cognition; it is impulsive, and while the skin-biting may present with anxiety/obsessive thoughts, the presence of anxiety/obsessions is not diagnostically required to precede the behavior (while such anxiety/obsessions are diagnostically required with OCD).
However, contemporary research suggests a link between impulse control disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, and this is rumored to be addressed in the DSM 5, due for publication in May 2013. Further information on differentiation between OCD, other anxiety disorders, and Dermatophagia and other impulse-control disorders can be found in the DSM-IV TR.
Dermatophagia sufferers chew their skin out of compulsion, and can do so on a variety of places on their body. Sufferers typically chew the skin surrounding their fingernails and joints. They also chew on the inside of their mouth, cheeks, and/or lips, causing blisters in and outside of the mouth. If the behavior is left unchecked for an extended period, calluses may start to develop where most of the biting is done.
Skin chewing can be bolstered by times of apprehension and other unpleasant events. Blisters in particular can cause a feeling of desire to pull or bite off the affected skin (since the skin is dead, thus easily pulled off), which could be detrimental, causing infection. Another disorder, known as dermatillomania, the act of picking at one’s skin, can sometimes accompany dermatophagia. People who suffer from dermatophagia can also be prone to infection as when they bite their fingers so frequently, they make themselves vulnerable to bacteria seeping in and causing infection. Dermatophagia can be considered a “sister” disorder to Trichophagia, which involves compulsively biting and eating one’s hair.