If you have an itch, it’s pretty hard to resist scratching it. In fact, when you scratch an itch, it feels sooooo good. But what causes the itching in the first place, and why does a good scratch make it feel better, even if temporarily?
Itching can be caused by a variety of things. Internally, allergies may flare up, while externally, dry skin or a tickle causes the feeling. It’s basically a very mild form of pain with your nerve endings and your brain working together to alert you to something amiss with your body.
When your body is exposed to an itchy trigger, it produces histamines, which trigger your nerve cells to feel like something is crawling across your skin. One might imagine that this is rooted in our caveman days, when we needed to know if there were bugs crawling on our bodies, so we could slap them away, much like a horse flicks its tail at pests.
When we do indulge in a scratch, it causes mild pain that distracts from the itch. But then our brain also releases serotonin, a feel-good hormone, which can give us pleasure but also send us into an endless cycle of itching and scratching. This can be harmful in the long run, as too much scratching causes irritation which can eventually create injury and tears to the skin.
To conquer your itch in a meaningful way, first, you have to track down the source of the itch -- and there are so many, from disease to a light breeze. If it’s allergies, an anti-histamine will help. If dry skin is the issue, then a lotion is the answer. Cold packs, heat, oatmeal baths and even pinching your skin, depending on the cause of your itch, can be a better alternative than scratching so that you don’t get into the itch-scratch cycle in the first place.
And, at the end of the day, sometime a scratch can be just for fun. Is there anything better than a back scratch from someone you are close with? Enjoy the serotonin release and, hopefully, it won’t leave you wanting more and more.