Itch Relief Could Be Imminent

April 08, 2009 11:25 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
A new study offers insight into how scratching relieves itching, and could lead to more effective treatments for chronic sufferers.

What Exactly Does Scratching Do?

Dr. Glenn Giesler and a research team at the University of Minnesota studied what happens when primates scratch the spinothalamic tract, an area of the spinal cord thought crucial to perception of itchiness, and found that it halted transmission of itch signals to the brain.

In other words, scratching relieves itching by reducing pain sensations delivered to the brain, a crucial finding that could lead to new treatments for chronic itching, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Most scientists believe that itching evolved with animal grooming, and was used as protection from toxic plants and insects. But itch biology has been a mysterious and neglected concept, as researchers tend to focus instead on pain, reported The New York Times.

Giesler talked with The New York Times about his astonishment at seeing "a noxious stimulus—the scratching—stop the firing of cells." He and co-researchers Steve Davidson, Xijing Zhang, Sergey G. Khasabov and Donald A. Simone monitored cellular connections in monkeys for the study.

Other researchers have chimed in to corroborate the significance of Giesler's finding, including Professor Gil Yosipovitch, an itch expert at Wake Forest University, who told the BBC that "methods that can induce a pleasurable scratch sensation without damaging the skin ... could be developed to treat chronic itch." He also noted the effects of emotions and physiology on itching and scratching, which could complicate potential treatments.

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Related Topic: Chronic, mysterious itching

Last year, The New Yorker published an article on an extreme case of chronic itching involving a woman known as M, whose case was so perpetual that she scratched through to her brain in her sleep one night. Although several physicians have told M that her itching results from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), others contend that her condition is neurological.

Reference: Skin Care Web Guide


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