Scientists Can't Stop Scratching the Itch

Allison Loudermilk

HowStuffWorks NOW: Scientists Engineer Chronically Itchy Mice to Curb Human Scratching Video: HowStuffWorks, Carousel: George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images
HowStuffWorks NOW: Scientists Engineer Chronically Itchy Mice to Curb Human Scratching Video: HowStuffWorks, Carousel: George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

Hooray, scientists have identified the neural pathway in mice responsible for mechanical itching. That's what you do when a mosquito lands on you. That discovery is the gist of the video above, and it sounds like good news for the millions of Americans who deal with chronic itching, or itching that spans more than six weeks.

But what if you like to scratch because it feels good? Whether you're sneaking a swipe at a patch of poison ivy or begging your partner to scratch your back, you've surely had that "ah" feeling flood you after satisfying an itch. And then you probably went straight back to scratching. You can thank your noggin for that.

The brain gets distracted from an itch when you scratch it. Which is good. But the scratching is still causing your body pain. Which is not good. To counteract those pain signals, your brain releases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that's so adept at blocking pain and boosting your mood, among other things. The only problem is that the serotonin intensifies the itch, as multiple research teams have found. Ultimately, all the scratching can lead to permanent skin damage.

So listen to your mom already and don't scratch. It really does make things worse.



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