How Itches Work


Putting an End to Itching
Even if you have no hands or legs, you can still enjoy a good scratch.
Even if you have no hands or legs, you can still enjoy a good scratch.
Paul A. Souders/Getty Images

Stopping the itch sensation is easier said than done. As we've said, itching can be due to all sorts of conditions. So you can imagine that with causes of itching ranging from a mosquito bite, to having a crimped nerve, to simply watching someone else scratch themselves, finding a cure or an end to itching is quite difficult.

So what's the best thing to do? Find out what type of itch you have to see if there's a treatment for it. You can use calamine lotion for poison ivy, hydrocortisone for eczema, or antihistamines for an allergic reaction to an insect bite.

You also can turn to your pantry for some home remedies to see if they'll do the trick. Grind up uncooked oatmeal and add it to your bath. Molecules in the oatmeal called avenanthramides block the release of inflammatory compounds, which hopefully can quell your itching. Rubbing baking soda on the skin has been known to soothe bug bites. And coconut oil has compounds that kill bacteria which can perpetuate and further aggravate an itch, especially when caused by eczema. Slather some of that on a couple times a day [source: Dog].

For psychosis-related itches, therapy might help. But how do you treat itching that is caused by some sort of neurological glitch? It's hard to determine how to handle these conditions when the underlying causes are not well understood. Antihistamines and corticosteroid treatments (like cortisone) don't work very well. Doctors currently prescribe local anesthetics that can inhibit neuronal excitability and advise their patients not to scratch [source: Oaklander].

That's actually the best advice for any type of itch, even though it's hard. Experts say to rub the spot gently, instead. That'll help the itch sensation diminish without the potential harms of scratching.

Author's Note: How Itches Work

I can't count the number of times I reached up to scratch my head or my arm while writing this article. Firsthand evidence that contagious itching is actually a thing!

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Sources

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  • Grady, Denise. "Itching: More Than Skin-Deep." New York Times. Feb. 17, 2014. (May 11, 2016) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/18/health/itching-more-than-skin-deep.html?_r=1
  • Hoopes, Lisa. Nutritionist and Researcher, Georgia Aquarium. Personal Interview. May 6, 2016.
  • Lemonick, Michael D. "Solved! The Mystery of the Maddening Itch." Time. May 23, 2013. (May 11, 2016) http://science.time.com/2013/05/23/solved-the-mystery-of-the-maddening-itch/
  • Live Science. "Scratching Feels Better on Certain Parts of Your Body." Jan. 30, 2012. (May 11, 2016) http://www.livescience.com/18202-itch-location-pleasure.html
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  • Potenzieri, Carl and Undem, Bradley J. "Basic Mechanisms of Itch." Clinical & Experimental Allergy. Vol. 42, No. 8. Jan. 2012. (May 18, 2016) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3170689/

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