JUN 16, 2016 6:37 AM PDT

The Science Behind an Itch

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Think about that scratchy wooly sweater that you own. Even worse, imagine a mosquito landing on your arm and taking a bite. The itchy sensation is inescapable. But why does our skin itch?

Medically known as pruritus, itching is a sign of skin irritation that involves activation of special nerve fibers and receptors on the body. As annoying as the sensation may be, it's an evolutionary adaptation that alerts us against potential toxins and poisons. In the same way, scratching is an alert cue to us and others around us.

Though scratching may relieve the itching sensation, this is only temporary. What's more, scientists have found that scratching may make the itching worse, as it causes the release of more serotonin neurotransmitters that heighten the itching sensation. So next time you get bitten by a mosquito, rather than scratch, smear anti-itch cream on the bite for relief.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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