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Daily Strange: Why does scratching an itch make it so much worse?

Written By: Ivey Ingalls Rubin


It feels so ridiculously good to scratch those bothersome itches, until shortly after your moment of euphoria ends and thus begins the insanely intense itch that drives you completely out of your mind. Well, have you ever wondered why that is?

It’s true that scratching the itch gives way to temporary relief at first. It works because scratching actually causes mild pain, which means your neurons in the spinal cord transfer pain signals instead of itch signals to your brain.

After a moment, the brain then releases a neurotransmitter called serotonin to dampen this pain. A new study conducted at Washington University in St. Luis, shows that this serotonin release in turn activates certain neurons in the spinal cord that create the itching sensation all over again.

This study was solely conducted on mice, but the same vicious cyclical itching and scratching could be going on in people as well.

It seems that when the brain receives the signal of pain, it quickly responds by producing serotonin to help control the feeling. However, as serotonin spreads throughout the brain and down the spinal cord, the chemical moves from pain-sensing, to what Zhou-Feng Chen, director of WU’s center of itch, calls “jumping tracks” by then evoking a more intense itch.

The researchers genetically modified mice that were incapable of producing serotonin and then injected these mice with a substance that causes the skin to itch. These mice itched far less than normal mice. Afterwards they injected serotonin into the genetically modified mice, resulting in typical scratching behavior.

Their study suggests that serotonin, which serves quite a few functions in our body, is also important for feeling the itch sensation.

Though there are many components to the itching cycle and it may take some time, this discovery is a large step forward in finding treatments for individuals with chronic itching. Researchers believe there is a way to break the communication between the serotonin and the spinal cord neurons. This means that the release of serotonin in response to scratching won’t activate more itching.

To read more information on the study please visit: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284655.php

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