The art of itching: Scratching away the annoyance


So you've got an itch and somehow a little scratch does the trick. Why does it work?

Scientists obviously know scratching provides some relief, but they are still trying to figure out why that happens. A University of Minnesota study tries to relieve our burning (and itching) questions about another weird part of our bodies that can cause intense life disruptions when the annoyance just won't go away.

Scientists have shown that when you have an itch, scratching provides relief because it blocks some activity in the spinal cord nerve cells that send signals to the brain.

The weird part: This only happens when you have an itch. Scratching at other times doesn't do anything. The spinothalamic tract is the main part of the spinal cord involved in the itch sensation.

BBC News reports on the study by the U that appears in Nature Neuroscience.

The latest work, in primates, found that scratching the skin blocks activity of nerve cells in the spinothalamic tract during itchiness - preventing the spinal cord from transmitting signals from the scratched area of skin to the brain.

Researcher Dr Glenn Giesler hopes the work could lead to ways to relieve chronic itch effectively for the first time. However, he said more information was still needed about the chemistry underpinning the effect.

Professor Gil Yosipovitch, an expert on itching from Wake Forest University in North Carolina, said the finding was "potentially significant".

He said: "Although there is a long way to go, methods that can induce a pleasurable scratch sensation without damaging the skin, via mechanical stimuli or drugs that can inhibit these neurons, could be developed to treat chronic itch."

For more details on the study, check out the Associated Press report.

For most, itchiness is a minor distraction. But for some, itch due to other diseases can be devastating. More than 50 diseases including shingles, AIDS, and Hodkins's Disease can cause intense itching.

We're getting itchy just thinking about itching.