An itching sensation of the skin arises due to stimulation of pruriceptors—itch-sensing nerve endings—by mechanical, thermal or chemical mediators. Though it is helpful in relieving the itch, scratching offers only temporary relief and may cause the skin to become further irritated and possibly tear, which could result in an infection. Scratching an itch feels pleasurable because the scratch fires pain receptors, causing the brain to release the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. An itch is your skin's way of telling the brain that there is something wrong with an area. Yosipovitch found scratching activated areas of the brain associated with memory and pleasure, while at the same time it suppressed areas associated with the sensation of pain and emotions. A better way to stop the itchy feeling is to rub the area or even give it a light slap. In short – scratching blocks the itching sensation, and it works on several levels. So, when you take your fingernails and scratch the surface of your skin you are temporarily damaging these receptors which cause your brain to send pain-relieving chemicals to the area (one such natural chemical is serotonin which creates feelings of happiness). When you feel the urge to itch, it’s because these receptors are sending that message to your brain. But, why does scratching an itch feel so good? The Children's Museum's Top 10 Blogs in 2014, 10 Amazing Facts about the Terra Cotta Warriors. Catch up on all of the past "Why's" on the blog! See, your skin is covered with little receptors that take in information of the surrounding area. You may have heard that scratching it will only make the itch worse - which can be true. When you scratch, you remove those irritants, but also cause pain. These C-fibers are identical to those associated with the sensation of pain, but they are functionally distinct and only convey the itch sensation—they comprise about 5 percent of the total C-fibers in human skin. 3000 North Meridian StreetIndianapolis, IN 46208-4716, 3000 North Meridian Street, Indianapolis, IN, USA 46208-4716 | phone 317-334-4000. There was an experiment to see what parts of the brain react to something like scratching an itch and why we do this. It feels oh so good to scratch an itch, but exactly how much pleasure we get from scratching depends on exactly where on the body the itch is, a new study says. The feeling would keep returning no matter how many times you scratched. Essentially one part of your brain is glitching out and telling you to keep scratching until your skin is perfect. Those pain signals are then sent to the brain. What is an itch and why does scratching make it go away? When stimulated superficially on the skin, these C-fibers carry signals along the nerve to the spinal cord and on to the brain, where they are processed, generating a scratching or rubbing reflex response. So your brain actually views scratching as a reward (even though it isn’t technically good behavior). Why does it feel so good to scratch an itch? Have you ever had an itch that just wouldn’t go away? Just like in a normal itch your bran cancels the pain and makes it feel good, however, this does not solve the problem and you are soon sent a scratch signal to the same bite again. "It puts in that message to continue it. Here’s the problem: While you might feel good digging away, the habit can dry your ear out and cause minor trauma like abrasions. This doesn't necessarily mean the itch will go away but its just pain. Visit Children's Museum of Indianapolis's profile on Pinterest. Scratching also stimulates various pain receptors in the region of the itch, basically, triggering a mild pain that leads our nerve cells shoot a signal to the brain, notifying it that something is hurting. Top Answer. By signing up I agree that I am 13 years or older, or I have my parent or guardian's consent. Scans reveal that scratching numbs part of the brain linked to unpleasant thoughts and memories. Why Does It Feel Good To Scratch An Itch? A release of serotonin in your brain makes you feel happier, a brief high. When we scratch, Mudgil says we send low-level pain signals to the brain. As the ol' song goes: if ya got an itch, then scratch it. Scratching and rubbing then interfere with the sensations arising from pruriceptors by stimulating various pain and touch receptors in the same areas. Yet scratching can increase inflammation and make itching even worse. Sometimes even reading about itching can cause your body to feel the need to scratch. Asked by Wiki User. Thus it feels better to scratch athlete’s foot. On one hand, you are damaging the things that are telling your brain about the itch so they can no longer send … Scientific American is part of Springer Nature, which owns or has commercial relations with thousands of scientific publications (many of them can be found at, Chemicals for immune response (histamines) and pain relief (opiods), Neuropeptides, which include pain-regulating messengers released within the brain, such as endorphins, The neurotransmitters acetylcholine and serotonin, Prostaglandins, which are lipids that, among other functions, create the sensation of pain in spinal nerve cells. Typically an itch feels better after scratching and the more it itches, the better it feels to scratch. This loop continues as your brain keeps sensing the need to itch. Scratching. Why You Should Never Stick a Q-Tip In Your Ears. Firstly, scratching an itch can brush off any potential threat, such as a biting insect. The receptors responsible for pruritus are called pruriceptors. That’s why it’s not usually a good idea to scratch bites, rashes, and other kinds of long-term itches. Scratching triggers mild pain in your skin, and nerve cells tell your brain to release the pain-fighting chemical serotonin. This suggests that, in the grand scheme, it’s more important to feel pain than itch. So, when you take your fingernails and scratch the surface of your skin you are temporarily damaging these receptors which cause your brain to send pain-relieving chemicals to the area (one such natural chemical is serotonin which creates feelings of happiness). Wiki User Answered . On one hand, you are damaging the things that are telling your brain about the itch so they can no longer send that signal, and on the other hand, you are getting a rush of serotonin. And why does it feel good when you scratch an itch? Doctors have put their finger on why it feels so good to scratch an itch. Answer. The specific cause of an itch is not particularly relevant to the need to scratch it but the amplitude of the irritation affecting it. When you have an itch, the temptation is to scratch. Scratching and rubbing then interfere with the sensations arising from pruriceptors by stimulating various pain and touch receptors in the same areas. There are many causes of itching - mosquito bites, rashes, allergies, sunburns and more. Scratching also causes dilation of blood vessels in the area, flushing away toxins. Settings WELCOME_INDEX, Bing [Bot] NO_PMS_INFO That’s why it feels good to scratch. questions? An itch, also known as pruritus, is a general sensation arising from the irritation of skin cells or nerve cells associated with the skin. This distracts the brain … Snowgoose. By defining the neural circuitry behind the sensation of itch and understanding the pleasure underlying the scratch response, it is easy to see why scratching can become an addictive behavior. While it can be a nuisance, pruritus serves as an important sensory and self-protective mechanism, as do other skin sensations such as touch, pain, vibration, cold and heat. You have no notifications. These include: Stimulation by any of these agents is typically related to inflammation, dryness or other damage to the skin, mucous membranes or conjunctiva of the eye. Researchers in the university’s Department of Dermatology investigated 10 chronic itch patients and 10 healthy patients, and found that chronic itch patients had higher reward response to scratching, which scientists think explain why it can be so addictive. How Itching Works While drugs and disease typically stimulate itching because of a chemical response, most of … Mark A. W. Andrews, professor of physiology and director of the Independent Study Pathway at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, answers this nagging question. 1 2 3. We feel physical changes (pleasant or unpleasant) because our brains are wired to our nervous system and tell us what to feel. It can alert us to harmful external agents, but can become unbearable if not treated. These agents include lotions and creams (such as calamine and hydrocortisone), antihistamines, opioid antagonists, aspirin and ultraviolet light therapy. Also, why do bug bits swell even more when you scratch them? Since the pain is so small and located in one small spot you feel an itch. They discovered that scratching an itch feels good because it activates the parts of your brain that deal with memory and pleasure. To help us answer this burning question, we turn to our friends at Farmer’s Almanac. It’s a warning system telling the rest of your body that something is hot, sharp or possibly dangerous. 2012-05-26 13:24:13 2012-05-26 13:24:13. But be careful! As with other kinds of itches, scratching an itch caused by histamine can also feel good, but only temporarily. Despite approximately a century of pruritus research, there is no single effective antipruritic treatment, but several topical and orally-administered agents are available that suppress itching in certain clinical settings. In fact, just about all animals do! If you think about it, scratching is a type of pain, yet we rely on it to get rid of an itch. But why? Dogs, cats, bears, birds, squirrels and humans all have to scratch themselves sometimes. Itch may be caused by various irritants. “Our natural instinct is to eliminate it, and tactile stimulation [or, scratching] is a knee-jerk response for immediate, albeit temporary relief,” Dr. Melanie Palm, dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, said . Pruritus is a dominant symptom of many skin diseases and also occurs in some diseases that affect the entire body. After all, your skin is your first line of defense against germs and so when you scratch it with your fingernails you are making it more likely something bad can get inside. In general, pruritus involves activation of the pruriceptors of specialized nerve cells called C-fibers. These types of itches are more long-lived than the other kind of itch, which makes people more likely to scratch them until the skin breaks. Discover world-changing science. It turns out scratching feels so good because it causes a low-level pain signal to shoot up to the brain and override the itch signal to provide us with relief. Some say that an itch is a form of small pain. 1 hour ago — Peter Doshi and Donald Light | Opinion, 19 hours ago — Jacob Wallace and E&E News, 21 hours ago — Michael Marshall and Nature magazine. Scratching, moving around, adjusting, etc. Explore our digital archive back to 1845, including articles by more than 150 Nobel Prize winners. Nerve cells tell your brain something hurts, and that distracts it from the itch. Why does it feel so good to scratch an itch? The genitals are both sensitive, and the hottest area of the body. That’s why it feels good to scratch. So, the next time you feel the need to scratch, think about what is happening and why it may feel good to use your fingernails, but also why you should think again. Looking for more Never Stop Asking "Why?" Simply scratching the skin — even without an induced itch — had a compulsive effect on the brain. We have a good understanding that scratching can beget more itching, so for some chronic skin diseases, part of the treatment goal is to break the “itch-scratch” cycle. You don’t want to scratch too much, or you could damage your skin and even cause bleeding. Scratching is thought to turn on nerves that that activate pleasure systems in the brain. Essentially, scratching an itch feels good because it distracts you from the initial irritation with a new feeling. That's why pinching or slapping the itchy spot can work, too. So, why does it feel good to scratch an itch? Subscribers get more award-winning coverage of advances in science & technology. That creates a vicious pattern known as the itch-scratch … ANSWER 0 BeautifulStranger ANSWERS: 2. © 2020 Scientific American, a Division of Springer Nature America, Inc. Support our award-winning coverage of advances in science & technology. Scratching relives the pain and sometimes makes it feel better. It feels good to scratch your feet, or any part of your skin because it triggers a chemical response. That will help turn off the receptors telling your brain to scratch without actually damaging the skin itself. Why does it feel so good to scratch your head? 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