You’re not imagining things: scratching an itch really does make it worse. According to an October 2014 study in the journal Neuron, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that scratching can relieve an itch by creating minor pain. And that’s where things go haywire: “The problem is that when the brain gets those pain signals, it responds by producing the neurotransmitter serotonin to help control that pain,” explained senior investigator Zhou-Feng Chen, Ph.D., director of Washington University’s Center for the Study of Itch in a press release. “But as serotonin spreads from the brain into the spinal cord, we found the chemical can ‘jump the tracks,’ moving from pain-sensing neurons to nerve cells that influence itch intensity.”In other words, scratching the itch creates a moment of sweet relief, but the pain that scratching causes and the subsequent release of serotonin actually intensifies the itch sensation. Go call your mom and tell her she was right to make you stop scratching those mosquito bites.
READ MORE: Scratching Really Does Make That Itch Worse