Dreamstime

Itching works as the body's defense mechanism

January 25, 2019 - 3:00 am
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KYW’s Medical Reports are sponsored by Independence Blue Cross. 

By Dr. Brian McDonough, Medical Editor

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Have you ever been in a situation where you were asked to hold something, temporarily impeding the use of your hands, but you developed an itch that needs to be scratched?

Think about it — you may not have consciously scratched an itch all day, but the moment you can't use your hands, the tip of your nose or the back of your neck becomes itchy, and you must scratch it.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences has looked into this phenomena and how an itch is processed and modulated in the brain. The first thing the researchers did was find out why we actually have the sensation of itching. 

The itch sensation plays a very important role in detecting harmful substances, especially those that have attached to the skin. By scratching an itch, there is a way to get rid of these harmful substances. 

The researchers looked at nerve cells called periaqueductal gray neurons in the brain and a so-called spinal itch circuit. Itching actually plays a very important role in the body as a defense mechanism, and it is definitely hardwired into our system.