THURSDAY, Feb. 2, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Sometimes, there's nothing better than scratching an itch. And a new study suggests that where the itch resides is key to the pleasure derived from scratching.
The findings help improve understanding of itch and might even help folks battling itchy skin ailments, according to study author Dr. Gil Yosipovitch, a professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The researchers induced itch on the ankles, forearms and backs of 18 volunteers and then assessed the degree of itch intensity and pleasure of scratching.
Itch was perceived most intensely on the ankle and back, while itch perception and scratching relief were less pronounced on the forearm. The pleasure of scratching an itch on the ankle lasted longer than at the other two sites.
"We see commonly involved areas such as the ankle and back in itchy patients with skin disorders caused by eczema or psoriasis," Yosipovitch said in a Wake Forest news release. "We never understood why those areas were more affected, and now we better understand that itch in these areas is more intense and pleasurable to scratch."
The study was released online in advance of print publication in the British Journal of Dermatology.
It was known that certain small nerve fibers are involved in unpleasant sensations such as itch and pain. The new findings suggest there are also specific nerve fibers involved in pleasure, Yosipovitch said.
"If we could translate this to a treatment that induces a pleasurable relief sensation without damaging the skin, we may be able to help itchy patients," he explained.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology explains what makes us itch.