Sure, relieving an irritating itch with a thorough scratch initially feels great. This is because the scraping sensation of our nails raking into our skin temporarily redirects our brain’s attention away from our itchiness. Our brain then interprets the slight sting of our nails as pain and responds by producing serotonin (via Pfizer). Also known as a “happy hormone,” serotonin plays a role in regulating pain perception, according to 2009 research published in the Annual Review of Medicine.
While the release of serotonin may relieve the pain, it was that pain that was distracting us from the itch in the first place. This can intensify itching even more, and suddenly you’re right back where you started. In fact, 1 in every 5 people report feeling an itch on a different part of their body after indulging in a good scratch (per WebMD). This concept of an itch that seemingly moves around the body has been dubbed “referred itch” by some experts.