Scientists Now Know Why We Itch: Do We Really Want The Itch to Stop?

Scientists Now Know Why We Itch:  Do We Really Want The Itch to Stop?

Scientists now know why we can identify the feeling of needing to itch. It is separate from the feeling of pain. They are working on blocking the need to itch. At first blush that seems great, but is it?

Why do we itch? Most of us don’t care. All we want is for it to stop. Whether it is a mosquito bite, a skin irritation or an illness such as Poison Ivy, it comes to us as a major annoyance.

It was interesting to me to find out that there has been a debate going on for decades as to whether or not the same skin cells that identify pain also cause itching. As was reported in the Spring 2013 edition of the HHMI Bulletin scientist Xinzhong Dong and his scientific posse discovered that the reason we itch is different than the reason we feel pain. While that sounds reasonably simple, it has been a major debate.

As it turns out there is a family of proteins in sensory nerves that react vigorously to certain “itch triggers.”

Of course knowing why I itch does me no good when I itch and sometimes itching can become painful.

However the next step that Mr. Dong and his colleagues are taking is to try and figure out how to block these itchy problems. At first I broke into a brazen “Moonwalk” and broad smile when I read that. Unfortunately my irritating over-active brain couldn’t get off the subject. I began to think, “Is it wise to stop the itching process?

Certainly there are times when itching is unnecessary. For example, if we have a mosquito bite our “itch-reaction” may cause more problems than the actual mosquito bite. We may itch until it is infected. I guess you could say the same about a skin reaction to a leaf that has the wrong chemical makeup.

Then again, maybe we need to itch. Here is my logic as I dodge the rocks you’re throwing at me: What if we are unaware of a mosquito bite because our itching reflex has been quashed? What if that mosquito is carrying West Nile Virus? We become ill but we have no recollection of being bitten? What if we have an itch and it is Poison Ivy? Don’t we want to know it?

I would go along with the idea that after a situation has been identified we could stop the itching with some form of sensory block but it seems to me we may not want to take away all physical capabilities to feel an itch.

That seems to be the end to all new information; it creates debate with respect to how this new knowledge is to be used.

We might say new knowledge creates an “intellectual itch.”

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