They're itchy, they're scratchy, and they're not going away just because mosquito season is coming. Everybody itches, but we all scratch for different reasons whether it be bug bites, rashes, allergic reactions, or that chunky wool sweater grandma gave us. There are many different triggers that cause those annoying irritations, so here we look at four reasons we itch, how and why they occur, and what we can do to stop them.
Poison Ivy. Photo by: Flickr user Leonora Enking
Itchy and Scratchy Show - The Need-To-Know
If scratching is bad for us, then why do we do it so impulsively? Our bodies are filled with nerves, and some nerve fibers are sensitive to touch, pain, or itch. "Itching" nerve fibers are activated when they detect histamine.
During allergic reactions, our bodies release a protein called "histamine," which is transferred to the brain via the spinal cord. Histamine causes inflammation and is meant to help the body fight infections (for example, from bites or abrasions). Multiple areas of the brain, including those that control emotional, sensory and motivational patterns, are all activated by the itch sensation. Antihistamines disable the protein from telling the brain about the itch and help us stop scratching.
But there's a reason that scratching feels so good. A study from the British Journal of Dermatology found that scratching reduces activity in the anterior and posterior cingulated cortices in the brain, causing pleasure. But most dermatologists - and common sense parents - suggest to keep scratching to a minimum to prevent skin damage.
While we all scratch to relieve an itch, itches can be caused by skin conditions, irritants, allergies, plants and insect bites. Read on to find out why they itch and how to treat them.