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Can’t Ditch the Itch – Bandersnatch

Can’t Ditch the Itch

Scratching Ironically Makes You Feel Itchier

Georgina Hartono (Staff Writer)


Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Does that itchy sensation on your elbow still persist after hours of relentless scratching? If you are still scratching as you’re reading this sentence, I will assume that that is the case. Well, if you want that irritation to stop, stop scratching. Yes, you are reading this right. Cease! Halt! Quit scratching! It actually intensifies your itchiness and does nothing but create unappealing scabs. You are probably asking yourselves: “What does she know? She’s not a dermatologist.” Well, itchy skeptical reader, hopefully the research conducted by the scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis will convince you.

According to the research led by senior investigator and director of Washington University’s Center for the Study of Itch Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD, the purpose of scratching an itch is to cause pain in order to disrupt the irritation by making nerves transmit pain signals instead of itch signals to the brain. When the brain receives those pain signals, it responds by producing serotonin, a neurotransmitter – which is a fancier synonym for the word “chemical” – that controls the pain and regulates mood. However, this chemical also intensifies itch. Professor Feng Chen confirms, “as serotonin spreads from the brain into the spinal cord, we found the chemical can ‘jump the tracks,’ moving from painsensing neurons to nerve cells that influence itch intensity.”

Dr. Feng and his team obtained this conclusion by experimenting on genetically engineered mice that lacked serotonin and normal mice. The researchers injected all the mice with a chemical that caused them to itch. They noticed that the normal mice, who were able to produce serotonin, scratched more than the
genetically engineered mice. When the genetically engineered mice were injected with serotonin, they scratched just as much as the normal mice. However, the pertinence of their thesis when it comes to humans has yet to be confirmed. Dr. Feng Chen states, “we know it happens in mice, but we don’t know if it happens in humans yet, although we suspect it’s very likely.”

Although it perpetuates itchiness, living without serotonin is not advantageous for humans because the neurotransmitter is responsible for our happiness, sleep, relaxation, growth and bone metabolism. More researches have to be executed to further the understanding on how humans experience itches. Therefore, since the long sought-after cure for itches has yet to be found, there is one thing that you can do to ditch the itch: stop scratching.

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