We’ve all been there. You start scratching an itch and you just can’t stop. Scratching feels so good! Recent research is now giving us a better understanding of why that is the case. Dr. Gil Yosipovitch, a leader in itch research and Chair of Temple University Dermatology, used MRI brain imaging to study differences in the brain when patients either scratched themselves (“active scratching”) or when someone else scratched for them (“passive scratching”). They showed that yes, scratching activates regions in the brain known to induce pleasure. Furthermore, active scratching led to activation of areas of the brain associated with both increased pleasure and also perceived relief of itch. However, that’s not to say that scratching will relieve the itch. In fact, many of us are familiar with the itch-scratch cycle where scratching leads to more itch which then in turn leads to more scratching. There’s a biological basis to this too. In mice, research has shown that scratching leads to release of serotonin which can ultimately lead to signaling of further itch pathways.
Interesting……right? The body is so complex!
If your toddler or child is having a hard time with scratching itchy skin, read about ScratchMeNots and how they can help!
Dr. Susan Huang is a board certified Dermatologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She has a strong passion for patient education and patient advocacy. She continues to educate through an emerging online source, Dermbytes, where she gives tips, news and updates related to dermatology.