Putting a watch on the scratchers

May 14, 1999

Researchers at the University of Newcastle are looking for a partial solution to one of the most ancient human problems - a proper night's sleep for young children and their parents. They are focusing on eczema, a skin complaint at its most frequent in four-year-olds, which keeps them awake scratching.

Jonathan Rees and Brian Diffey, funded by the Wellcome Trust, point out that the present approach to eczema involves drugs like antihistamines that make the patient sleepy. But nobody knows where the itching and resulting scratching come from.

They have developed a wris****ch-type device called an actigraph which is used to measure arm movements throughout the day and night. The result ought to be a comparison between arm movements of both children and adults with and without eczema. Professor Rees says that the itch is often more distressing than the rash for young children and new treatments may emerge from knowing more about the scratching response.

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