Last update: 22-Jul-2014 11:09 am
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
You are here
Scratching away at the mystery of itch
The sensation of feeling itchy is pretty universal, and yet scientists still don’t completely understand the complex processes that give us the urge to scratch.
Itching can be annoying, but like pain, a little bit can be a good thing. Itching can help people learn to avoid dangers such as mosquitoes carrying malaria, or poison ivy. But many people suffer from chronic itch, which has no direct cause and can be a debilitating condition with few options for relief.
“When people hear about itch, they think about a mosquito bite or chicken pox, which is irritating but very temporary,” said Diana Bautista, a cell and developmental biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who wrote an article summarising our current understanding of itch, published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Bautista said people often laugh when she tells them she studies itch. But “from a clinical perspective, chronic itch is a really widespread problem, and incredibly difficult to treat,” she told LiveScience.
Itch, or ouch?
Like the feelings of touch, temperature and pain, itching involves a complex system of molecules, cells and circuits reaching from the skin into the brain. Most over-the-counter treatments for itching target histamine, a compound involved in inflammation. But many kinds of itch can’t be treated with antihistamines or other available treatments.
Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, systemic conditions including multiple sclerosis, and even some cancers, can all lead to chronic itch, which affects about ten per cent of the world’s population at some point during their lives, Bautista said.
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.