When you were young did you ever fall off your bike and end up with a big gash in your leg or around your knee? Do you remember what your mother told you besides to keep the area clean?
She probably said, “Stop scratching it. It can’t heal if you keep scratching.” Mom knew that scratching could definitely re-open the wound and even introduce bacteria into it that would cause an infection.
Why is it that scars itch?
Surprisingly, scientists only have theories on the answer. But first of all, you should know that scars that itch are a big problem in those who have been burned and in keloid scars. In fact, sometimes scientists divide people with scars into two groups for – those who have an itch on their scar six months or less after an injury that caused it (acute itch), and those who have itching more than six months after the injury (chronic itch).
Since scars can take a few years to heal, it’s conceivable that someone could have itching for the entire time! In one Texas study of 23 burn scar survivors, 87 percent had itching episodes daily.
Ninety-six percent had three or more episodes daily. And here’s the worst part – 52 percent had itching attacks that lasted up to 30 minutes each episode. Ninety-four percent reported that itching was unbearable in the chronic itch group; 86% in the acute itch group. They complained of severe burning and crawling sensations.
The good news is that as healing of the scar continued, the number of itch attacks decreased, as did the length of time the attack lasted.
In China, doctors at the Southern Medical University found a significant difference between the beta-endorphin levels found around the nerve fibers in the skin of the scar. The patients who had itch without pain or itch with pain had significantly more beta-endorphin than those without pain or itch or in the control group. The researchers are thinking that there’s some connection between beta-endorphin and itching, although they don’t know what exactly it is yet.
Beta-endorphin is the compound that your brain makes when you’re out running or exercising, listening to music, laughing or praying.
When scars were analyzed, there’s more than just beta-endorphin that can be found in the tissue. Scientists in Mexico City at a burn unit found Type 1 receptors for TNF-alpha in the blood vessels and IL-1beta in the keratinocytes and CD1a(+) cells. But like in the previous study, the scientists are still shaking their heads asking what it all means.
Itching is possibly caused by inflammation in the skin around the scar. We know this is probably true because antihistamines reduce it. But did you know that there’s a type of itch that antihistamines can’t reduce?
This tells us that there’s another part of the nervous system that is causing the nasty itch. It could result because of the activation of the opioid receptors found in the skin, reports Chinese scientists. Or maybe because itching is such a bother, the beta-endorphins are released in the skin to calm us all down!
How much itching do you experience with your scar?
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