Scientists have been itching to find an answer to the universal problem of chronic itch in many people, an effective treatment to which has eluded them for a long time.They finally broke a code or two when they found a correlation between pain and an itch.Funnily though, they also revealed how pain can block out an itch and yet some itch can eventually cause pain.
An itch may not be ranked on top by the health conscious inhabitants of this planet, however, the fact that chronic itching affects close to ten percent of the global population at some point in their life is a worrying concern for many. An itch, however, is not always an unfavorable phenomenon since it helps in quickly identifying the presence of unwanted things in contact with the skin. A good protection against possible mosquito bites or even poison Ivy, an itch helps people avoid many a pitfalls during daily life.
Diana Bautista, a cell and development biologist at the University of California, Berkley, has summarized the information that is currently available to decode the mystery of an itch. She said that usually people relate an it to a mosquito bite or chicken pox. The temporary nature of such a condition makes an itch far less important a concern for the general population.
This according to Bautista is reason behind people often laughing out when told of her research and study in the field of itch. However, the very statement by the scientists to indicate that pain has been found to possess the tendency to block out many an itch whereas an itch itself can cause pain, does evoke a confusing outlook towards the entire issue.
Reading into the report one is able to understand the depth of her statement. An itch like any other feeling is communicated to the brain through a complex set of cells and circuits inside the body. The tendency to scratch an itch is common and the reason behind the relief that is achieved from scratching is attributed to pain.
It has been found that the cells and neuro-circuits inside the body which transmit the signals of pain and itch to the brain are also overlapping. The pain caused by scratching is able to suppress the feeling of itch thereby bringing relief immediately. The downside however remains that painkillers like morphine once taken can cause chronic itchiness in many cases. Bautista further adds that it’s also ironic that some ingredients like capsaicin from chili peppers which can cause itch, has the ability to cause pain as well.
Last year, scientists from the National Institutes of Health had announced in a report that nerves release a molecule known as neuropeptide natriuretic polypeptide b (Nppb) to the brain and directs it to initiate the action of scratching. Mark Hoon, a senior author of the report, clarified that earlier it was understood that both pain and itch were being detected by that same class of nerve cells. Thus, being able to determine information on the contrary is a significant breakthrough in this field.
Hoon continued to explain the effect that stimulation from a feather or a mosquito bite or from poison ivy leads to the release of the Nppb molecules from the other end of the nerve cells. These molecules travel to the brain through the spinal cord, signaling it to take counter action. Although all signals including pain have the same travelling and signally route, Nppb is a requirement for itching to take place.
Bautista has expressed satisfaction with the basic discoveries that has taken place in this field for the last five years. The understanding of the blocking of an itch through the pain caused by scratching and the correlation between the two has especially opened up more possibilities. With the separation of the basic neurological cells responsible for itching, a possible solution to chronic itching from the scientists should be revealed soon enough.
By Daris Abraham