The Science of Itching – Science on the Web #96

(woman laughs) – [Man] Scratchin’ his butt. – [Deep Voice Man] (chuckles) Yeah. – Cute stuff, but when
does an itch become more than just something to be scratched? – Oh, about the time you
scratch a hole in your brain. (electronic music) – [Female Host] Imagine
an itch so powerful that it compelled one woman
to dig deep into her scalp until she reached her brain. Dr. Atul Gawande documents Patient M, as she’s known in a New
Yorker article “The Itch.” – [Male Host] Most of her scalp-scratching happened at night. While she slept, her
fingernails found their way to the chronic itch and went to work. It wasn’t until she had
awakened one morning and found green fluid
spilling down her face that she had any inkling
of what she had done. – [Female Host] This is an extreme example of the itch-scratch cycle. You probably know it well. You brush up against a tree branch or an insect bites you, sending out a flurry of signals from your skin to your brain that there’s an irritant
that must be tended to. – [Male Host] You drag
your nails across the area, but with that burst of relief, you’ve now excited even more
nerve endings around the itch causing the need for more
scratching and itching, and so on, and so forth. – [Female Host] It’s one
of the more common symptoms of conditions like Hodgkin’s disease, allergic reactions, bacterial
or fungal infections, skin cancer, psoriasis, dandruff, scabies, lice, poison ivy, sun damage,
or even plain old dry skin. – [Male Host] The problem
is when your immune system’s out of whack or hyper-vigilant, and this is where stress
and itching come in, sometimes beginning the “tail
wagging the dog” scenario. The higher our stress response, the more our immune system engages causing inflammation in the body and the more we scratch to
remove the phantom itch. – [Female Host] And that’s when
you become alarmingly aware of the delicate meat bag that encases you. In fact, according to Robert Kanigel in his article “The Ignominious Itch,” there are even rare instances
of people committing suicide because of the agony of the itch. – [Male Host] The feedback
loop between the mind and body are at the very heart of the matter. This is also a feature
of Morgellons Disease, a self-diagnosed condition
in which the illness can manifest as sores,
itching, fatigue, pain, and even the sensation
that insects are crawling underneath the skin. – [Female Host] Those who
suffer from Morgellons also report the discover of fiber specks or even crystal-like substances
embedded in their skin, though when a few fiber
samples were analyzed by medical researchers,
they found the fibers to be from very common
sources like clothing. – [Male Host] In 2012, the Centers for Disease
Control released the results of their 115 patient study on the matter, reporting, quote, “We
were not able to conclude “based on this study whether
this unexplained dermopathy “represents a new condition “or wider recognition
of an existing condition “such as delusional infestation.” – [Female Host] One thing
we know for sure, though, is that the itching
sensation is contagious. – [Male Host] It’s similar
to seeing someone yawn and then exciting the
mirror neurons in your brain can easily trigger a response from our central nervous system. Hey, if you enjoyed this video, be sure to check out these
three videos as well. – [Female Host] And
don’t forget to visit us at – It’s a tingling sensation
that can strike at any time. It’s an itch, and it will be scratched. – If you’re watching this right now, chances are pretty high
that you have skin. It’s a human being’s largest organ, and if you stretched out the
skin of an average adult, it would cover 22 square feet. – [Male Host] Those
guilt-manifested stains may not be going anywhere, but your skin definitely is. On the extreme end of the spectrum, excessive scrubbing can
actually wear away your skin, the same as If you took a
sheet of sandpaper to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *