What is an itch? We all know what it feels like to have a spot that requires scratching. However, exactly how that signal is interpreted within the nervous system remains something of a mystery. A new study is adding weight to the idea that the signals that cause itching are most closely related to those that cause pain.
The skin has “sensors” (called receptors) that only respond to pain-producing stimuli and others that respond only to itch-producing stimuli. However, it also has some receptors that respond in the same way to both. At the University of California, Berkeley assistant professor and researcher Diana Bautista is studying how the skin responds to various substances known to cause itching and painful sensations.
Finding out how the skin sends these signals and how the brain receives them could result in major changes to the treatment of chronic itching. If the skin is using the same receptors and signals to tell the brain there is an itch as it does to signify pain, researcher may be able to treat chronic itching more like chronic pain.
Some of the drugs used to treat patients with pain may be adjusted to deal with itching. This could be especially helpful for patients whose itch does not respond to the current methods of treatment like antihistamines. Some diseases like kidney and liver failure, diabetes and cancer can produce an intractable itch that antihistamines can’t stop. Finding a way of stopping the signals going from the skin to the brain could be a huge relief to patients.
More information about the research studying the similarities between itching and pain can be found by visiting the full article.