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What's Causing Your Itch?

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Woman Scratching Her Back

Why does scratching seem to temporarily relieve an itch?

Woman Scratching Her Back

Why does scratching seem to temporarily relieve an itch?

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Explanation: Research shows that when your body is exposed to something that causes an itch, specific nerves in the spinal cord become active and fire off signals to the brain. Those signals cause the feeling of the itch. So what does scratching do? Researchers think that scratching blocks these nerve cells from sending their message, at least temporarily.

Poison Ivy Rash

Scratching a poison ivy rash will cause it to spread.

Poison Ivy Rash

Scratching a poison ivy rash will cause it to spread.

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Explanation: Despite what you heard as a kid, scratching a rash caused by poison ivy won't make it spread. The liquid that might ooze from your rash isn't toxin from the plant. A poison ivy rash seems like it spreads because it might develop more slowly in some areas than others. Although scratching won't make the rash spread, it's still a bad idea -- scratching can lead to infection.

Culex Tarsalis Mosquito

Why does a mosquito bite itch?

Culex Tarsalis Mosquito

Why does a mosquito bite itch?

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Explanation: When a female mosquito – only females bite -- pokes its proboscis into your skin to draw blood, it squirts in saliva that prevents the blood from clotting. Proteins in that saliva trigger a response from the immune system, which causes the swelling and itch. The reaction will linger long after the mosquito has moved on to lay its eggs -- or been swatted into oblivion.

Poison Sumac leaves and flowers

What's the name of this itch-causing plant?

Poison Sumac leaves and flowers

What's the name of this itch-causing plant?

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Explanation: All three "poison" plants dreaded by campers, kids, and gardeners -- poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac -- have the same itch-producing chemical in their sap, urushiol. About 85% of people develop an allergy to urushiol after a few exposures. If you've touched one of the plants, wash the area with hot, soapy water. Wash your clothes and shoes, too. To help control the itch, you may want to try calamine lotion or over-the-counter hydrocortisone or diphenhydramine.

Sunburned Feet

Applying butter to an itchy sunburn will help it heal.

Sunburned Feet

Applying butter to an itchy sunburn will help it heal.

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Explanation: This is one traditional remedy that won't help. In fact, coating sunburn with butter could make things worse by trapping heat in the skin. The same goes for petroleum jelly. To treat a sunburn, cover the area with cold compresses or soak it in a cool bath. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone or diphenhydramine creams might help too.

Pediatrician Examining a Girl s Rash

The medical name for itch is:

Pediatrician Examining a Girl s Rash

The medical name for itch is:

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Explanation: Whether it's an itch caused by a bug bite or sunburn, it's pruritus. Our ability to feel an itch has an evolutionary purpose: Scratching helps animals remove parasites and other irritants from their skin. The problem is that when you scratch, you inflame the skin -- and that triggers the nerve fibers that cause more itching. It's called the itch-scratch cycle, and your mother was right: scratching will just make it worse.

Bed bug on human

What itch-inducing bug is this?

Bed bug on human

What itch-inducing bug is this?

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Explanation: The good news is that bed bugs don't spread disease. The bad news? They can make your nights misery and getting rid of them is not easy. Bed bugs feed on blood and leave behind small, red, itchy spots on your skin. Although their numbers dropped in the mid-20th century, bed bugs have recently made a comeback in the U.S. They can show up anywhere, even in expensive hotels. To get rid of them, you may need to use a professional pest control service.

Oatmeal heaped on a spoon

Oatmeal baths will help with itchy skin.

Oatmeal heaped on a spoon

Oatmeal baths will help with itchy skin.

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Explanation: This traditional treatment for itchy skin has good evidence behind it. Oatmeal seems to contain natural chemicals that ease inflammation. One option is to buy colloidal oatmeal, which is extracted from regular oatmeal after it's been finely ground and boiled. But sprinkling typical supermarket oatmeal in your bath will work too.

Woman drinking coffee in bedroom, looking out

Keeping cool can reduce itchiness.

Woman drinking coffee in bedroom, looking out

Keeping cool can reduce itchiness.

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Explanation: Body heat and sweat can make an itch even itchier. So if you've got a case of itchy sunburn or poison ivy, turn on a fan or air conditioner. Wear light, loose clothing. Use cold compresses or take a bath -- just make sure that the water is cool.

Woman Putting Bandage on Finger

Cuts and burns can itch as they heal because of

Woman Putting Bandage on Finger

Cuts and burns can itch as they heal because of

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Explanation: Histamine -- the same substance in your body that causes an allergic reaction -- can make your cut or burn itch when it starts to heal. When your skin is damaged, cells that release histamine travel to the site to repair it. Although histamine seems to speed healing, it also causes swelling and itch. With mild burns and scrapes, over-the-counter creams and gels with the antihistamine diphenhydramine can help calm the itchiness.

Man in hazardous suit

What is "contagious itch"?

Man in hazardous suit

What is "contagious itch"?

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Explanation: Researchers believe that some of the brain cells that are active when we're scratching are also active when we're watching someone else scratch. The same can happen with yawning. Reading a sentence like "Your back is covered with mosquitoes" can have the same effect. How do you stop contagious itch? Concentrate on something else.

Your Score:  – You correctly answered  out of  questions.
Your Score:  – You correctly answered  out of  questions.
Senior man lying on hammock, eyes closed

Results: Nice job -- you have a good handle on how to treat itch and identify the cause. Although you may be able to soothe minor itches with over-the-counter itch creams and at-home treatments, don't forget about prevention. Use sunscreen whenever you're out. Protect yourself from bug bites and poisonous plants with long pants and sleeves. Taking simple precautions could spare you days -- or weeks -- of itchy agony.

Results: Pretty good -- you know something about treating itchy rashes and identifying their causes. Although you may be able to soothe minor itches with over-the-counter itch creams and at-home treatments, don't forget about prevention. Use sunscreen whenever you're out. Protect yourself from bug bites and poisonous plants with long pants and sleeves. Taking simple precautions could spare you days -- or weeks -- of itchiness.

Results: You might need to brush up a little on how to treat an itch -- and how to identify what causes it. Although you may be able to soothe minor itches with over-the-counter itch creams and at-home treatments, don't forget about prevention. Use sunscreen whenever you're out. Protect yourself from bug bites and poisonous plants with long pants and sleeves. Taking simple precautions could spare you days -- or weeks -- of itching.

Poison Ivy Poll

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WebMD Video Series

Click here to wach video: Poison Ivy Pitfalls

It's not just summer. Poison ivy and its nasty cousins, poison sumac and poison oak, strike year round.

Click here to watch video: Poison Ivy Pitfalls