Last week, our doctor blew our mind when we came into her office complaining of a sore throat. After shining a light in our mouth and holding our tongue down with a depressor to take a closer look at those red tonsils, she sat back in her chair and asked us this question: “Well, does your throat hurt?”
Sure, it may seem like a simple query, but it was one that left us inexplicably confounded. Did our throat hurt? Nope, not quite.
“It itches,” we replied wearily. Suddenly, our doc’s demeanor changed and a slight smile crept over her face. “Did you know that itching is the mildest form of pain?”
Our doctor’s response wasn’t one that we were anticipating—in fact, her words felt like a bit of a jab. Was this just her polite way of calling us a wuss for making an appointment for an “itchy” throat?
After we were sent home on an over-the-counter cough medicine regimen, we furiously Googled the phrase: ‘Is itching a form of pain’? Remarkably, what we found on the subject was humbling, and also pretty enlightening!
You see, for years, medical experts believed exactly what our doctor thought to be true, that itching is just a mild form of pain. While they weren’t completely wrong in their thought processes, a new study suggests that the relationship between itching and pain is a whole lot more complex than that.
In a study conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, researchers discovered that itching and pain are actually completely distinct. But, that doesn’t mean that they stay separate—the two are connected by serotonin.
Sometimes referred to as the “happy chemical,” the body releases serotonin when it is undergoing a period of pain, particularly in the epidermis. It’s an incredible process which helps us endure agonizing injuries, but it has a completely different effect when we are experiencing itching, specifically.
In their work, the researchers found that when the lab mice used in the study were suffering intense levels of itching, the serotonin would flow—but instead of relieving them of their itchy spells, it made them itch even MORE. This, of course, provoked them to scratch the itch, which, in turn, made their sensitive skin feel better.
This mechanism is what makes itching feel so darn amazing, but it’s also what makes the act incredibly addictive. Makes sense, huh?
Suddenly, the old adage, “Don’t itch, it will just make you scratch more,” has never resonated with us so much. Just another way your body can turn into an inescapable torture chamber! Ok, we know, a tad bit dramatic, but itchiness sure does feel like torture to us.
To learn more about itching and to find out why it’s actually good for your body to scratch that itch every now and then, be sure to watch the video below!
We’d love to hear your thoughts on all things itching. Are you surprised that serotonin is part of the itching process? Do you know of any great at-home treatments for preventing itching? If so, any all-natural remedies?