Doctors commonly ask their patients to rate their pain from one to 10, although it is rare that we would be asked to scale our itchiness in this way.
Gauging an itch
Some readers may be wondering, why do we even need an itchiness scale? If you’ve ever had a condition which causes you to constantly scratch, however, you may be able to relate to the importance of such a scale.
“Itch torments so many patients across so many conditions. It can be as debilitating as chronic pain,” says Shuai Xu, assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Some of these conditions may include liver disease, diabetes, anemia, or chickenpox, all of which are widespread in the global population.
“If we’re able to quantify scratching accurately, then we have the ability to objectively quantify itching. This is really important in patients – like children – who can’t always verbalize or quantify their suffering.”
Scratching the itch
Xu was thus inspired to create a wireless device that tracks itchiness, details published in Science Advances. The machine is created from flexible material that is comfortably fitted onto the participant’s thumb to track motion and vibration. This data is then fed back to a computer to be analyzed.
A control group of 10 healthy subjects and 11 patients with atopic dermatitis (eczema) were monitored overnight with the device while they slept. The rate of itching from the device was compared to information gathered from infrared camera footage to ensure the sensor is accurately picking up motion. After analyzing over 300 hours of footage, the team confirmed that the itch sensor can accurately quantify each patient’s individual amount of scratching.
“This is an exciting time for children and adults with atopic dermatitis – or eczema – because of the flurry of activity in developing new therapeutics,” says Dr. Amy Paller, who was involved in the project.
They continued: “Nothing is more important to measure a medication’s effectiveness for eczema than itch, the symptom that both defines eczema and has the greatest impact on quality of life. This sensor could play a critical role in this regard, especially for children.”
Source study: Science Advances – A skin-conformable wireless sensor to objectively quantify symptoms of pruritus