More Science See Inside Chronic Itching: Causes and Cures How to get relief from the insatiable need to scratch By Uwe Gieler and Bertram Walter HOWARD BERMAN Getty Images Warning: just reading this article might make your skin crawl. Thinking about itching, seeing people scratch, looking at pictures of bedbugs or other itch inducers—all can bring on an irresistible urge to flick away that irksome feeling. But itching—“pruritus,” to physicians—is more than an occasional nuisance. The sensation, which arises from an irritation of the nerve cells along the skin, serves as a helpful warning about potential hazards such as insects or foreign materials—and scratching is often a simple and effective method for dealing with them. Itching is also the main symptom of many skin diseases and appears in some systemic conditions, such as chronic renal disease, cirrhosis and some types of cancer. This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now! Select an option below: Buy Digital Issue Customer Sign In *You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com. Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access. ADVERTISEMENT Scientific American is a trademark of Scientific American, Inc., used with permission © 2013 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.