I have had eczema since I was born. I will scratch my skin until it bleeds, and then I will scratch it some more. Sometimes I don't even realize I'm scratching, and friends have to grab my hand to stop me from tearing my flesh open. It only works for a second before I begin scratching again.
I'm addicted to scratching my itch, which is a huge problem, because if you have eczema, you are always itchy. Which means I am always scratching.
But what is it about scratching an itch that feels so damn good? I know scratching relieves my itch, but I tend to keep scratching even after the itch is relieved (read: after I start bleeding profusely) because of how amazing it feels. And I know other people who do the same. So why do we itch even after we seem to scratch it away?
A study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis gave me my answers. Researchers in the study found that scratching releases serotonin, which somehow INTENSIFIES the itch sensation.
Here's how: When you scratch your skin, the pain that accompanies the scratching distracts the brain from the itch. Those pain signals are then sent to the brain. Then, serotonin, the feel-good hormone that is also a pain-blocker, is released and travels down the spinal cord to both stop the pain from the scratch and release good feels.
Researchers found that as serotonin travels, however, it does what the study's senior author Zhou-Feng Chen calls "jump[ing] the tracks," which means it moves from "pain-sensing neurons to nerve cells that influence itch intensity."
So scratching creates pain that the body responds to, but then when the body responds, the response intensifies the need to scratch. Cool. I'm basically trapped in this cycle forever.