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What is an itch, what is our body telling us ?

The sensation of an itch is one we’ are all familiar with.  While some itchiness has an obvious cause, such as a mosquito bite, chickenpox, eczema or an allergy, in many cases there is no particular reason for the itch.  Scientists are not completely clear on why our bodies react and make the urge to scratch absolutely irresistible.

Itching (or pruritus, the correct medical term) can be a pretty unpleasant feeling, and the sensation can be all consuming until relief is achieved.  Occasional mild to moderate itching is very common, and, in some cases, can be severe.  Any area of the body can be affected.  We may experience a generalised all-over itch, or it may be localised in one particular spot. For example, an itchy back.

Itchiness is without doubt an extremely irritating phenomenon, but it did have a key purpose to play in our evolution. Our ancestors will have learnt pretty quickly to avoid hazards such as biting insects or poison ivy once they realised the unpleasant symptoms that would result if they did so.

However, putting aside cases where there is a clear case of cause and effect, it is undeniable that countless people all over the world suffer from a chronic itch, the cause of which in undetermined and this can potentially impact on our quality of life.  Itchiness by its very nature simply cannot be ignored and even mild cases can be very distracting. Trying to find a solution can take up time that we just don’t have to spare.

The physiological process that causes us to itch is the result of a well-orchestrated system comprising circuits, cells and molecules that work together to pass messages from the skin to the brain.  In the same way, lightning fast messages travelling along the same pathway enable us to feel temperature, pain or simply touch.  However, when the message received by our brains is ‘an itch’ and there is no obvious cause, it can be tricky to know how to react. The go-to solution offered by a doctor will often be an antihistamine, to calm any allergic inflammation.  As many itches are not triggered by allergy, this can leave the sufferer in limbo, itching away merrily, but unsure how to proceed.

The holy grail of itches – an itchy back that desperately needs scratching – has traditionally meant an appeal to our nearest and dearest to please help us out.  If there is no one available (or willing!) to assist, we may be left contorting ourselves into a succession of hilarious but potentially dangerous poses as we desperately flail about trying to reach the elusive itch that, of course, mysteriously moves as soon as we think we’ve cornered it.

The pure bliss of successfully reaching and then subduing an itch is hard to beat.  This is why a good quality backscratcher is such an essential piece of kit. I nvesting in a BackBliss backscratcher means that you can be utterly certain of one thing – the scratch will always triumph over the itch.