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If It Scratches, Itch It. Is That Good Advice?

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We’ve all heard the saying, “if it itches, scratch it.” But is that really good advice? Maybe not. In this personally researched post, we take a look at the science (?) of scratching and come to some interesting conclusions.

By David Stone

On the Science (?) of Scratching


Have you ever wondered why an itch feels so good to scratch? I don’t mean why in the sense of “What is the molecular basis for this phenomenon?” I mean why in the sense of “Is there some way we can get this feeling without having to experience an itch in the first place?”

Man dies from scratch (poster; tetanus; immunity)
Man dies from scratch (poster; tetanus; immunity) by Unknown maker is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0

After years of careful study (i.e., four minutes on the Internet), I am prepared to share with you the following information on itching, which I have arranged in Q&A format because that is how I like my information:

Q: What causes an itch?
A: forgetfulness.

No, seriously: An itch is caused by histamine, which is released by your body’s mast cells when they detect a foreign invader such as poison ivy or a mosquito bite. The histamine then sets off an itching sensation.

Q: Why does scratching make an itch feel better?
A: Because it distracts your brain from thinking about whatever else is bothering you. Also, when you scratch, you release endorphins, which are nature’s way of saying “Ouch!”

Q: Can other things besides histamine cause an itch? clothing made from certain synthetic fibers; tight shoes; dehydration; stress; fungal infections such as athlete’s foot or jock itch; psoriasis; chickenpox; shingles; hives; and cholestasis of pregnancy, which I am pretty sure is when a woman’s liver stops working right and she has to be hospitalized and hooked up to a machine that goes BEEP BEEP BEEP real fast. So if you are itching and you don’t know why, one possibility is cholestasis of pregnancy. Could be worth mentioning to your doctor.

Q: Is there any downside to scratching? A: Oh, absolutely. For one thing, when you scratch, you break open your skin, which allows bacteria to get in and causes infection. Also, if you scratch hard enough, you can cause permanent damage to your nerve endings, which will prevent you from being able to feel anything else ever again except pain.

Also, people who see you scratching may mistakenly conclude that you have fleas. So basically what I’m saying here is that there are times when it might be a good idea not to scratch an itch.

But those would be rare times indeed, such as during job interviews or root canal procedures. Any other time – go ahead! Go crazy! Just make sure nobody’s filming it.

Conclusion: To Scratch or Not To Scratch

So there you have it! The next time you have an itch, go ahead and scratch it – but maybe not too hard…just in case.

And if you’re ever feeling stressed or anxious or just need a distraction from life’s problems – go ahead and give yourself a good ol’ fashioned back scratch! You just might find that it makes everything feel better – at least for a little while.

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