New understanding of how scratching relieves itch

New understanding of the way in which scratching relieves itch could lead to treatments for the problem following a number of systemic diseases, researchers believe.

Photograph: istockphoto/Dori OConnell
Photograph: istockphoto/Dori OConnell

A study in Nature Neuroscience shows that itchiness itself creates a specific state in the spinal cord.

This in turn allows scratching to decrease the activity of the neurons sending the itch sensation to the brain.

Glenn Giesler, from the University of Minnesota, said: ‘If we can understand how scratching blocks itch, then maybe we or others can devise ways to activate the inhibitory system and relieve itch without scratching.

‘If this can be done it would certainly reduce the damage caused by scratching, and this can be very severe.’

Dr Geisler cites a number of systemic diseases that can cause severe itch for which new treatments could be developed as a result of these findings. These include AIDS, Hodgkin's disease, biliary problems and postherpetic neuropathy.

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