03.05.2017 change 03.05.2017

When scratching becomes a disorder

We all sometimes scratch the skin itching, for example, after a mosquito bite. But this prosaic habit may develop into a life-impairing disorder. Research on this subject has been conducted by researchers from the Institute of Psychology of the Jagiellonian University.

The phenomenon of pathological skin pickling has known and described in medical literature since the nineteenth century, but diagnostic criteria for this condition were described only in 2013 in the United States, where skin picking disorder is officially classified as a disorder. It often accompanies anxiety disorders or mood disorders" - informs the Institute of Psychology of the Jagiellonian University.

Several conditions must be met to establish that a trivial scratching habit has changed into a disorder. "For picking or scratching to be considered a disorder, it must be recurring. Indeed there are people who admit that they are scratching almost all the time, resulting in skin damage, scars, small wounds, discoloration" - said Dr. Katarzyna Prochwicz from the Institute of Psychology of the Jagiellonian University (IP UJ).

A person who suffers from this disorder also makes (usually ineffective) attempts to overcome it, such as wearing gloves. Usually, awareness of pathological picking is also a cause of anxiety and hinders functioning in social and professional life.

Dr Prochwicz noted that this type of disorder can affect people of all ages. It most often occurs for the first time between the age of 12 and 16 and between 30 and 40. Research conducted in the United States showed that its mild forms could affect as much as 62 percent of the population. Even more people admitted to skin picking in Turkey (87%) and Germany (91%). Its most severe - pathological - form affects over 4 percent surveyed in Germany and 2% in Turkey.

For very long no one has conducted such research in Poland. The team of Dr. Katarzyna Prochwicz from the IP UJ was the first to investigate this phenomenon. Researchers have sought to determine the impact of pathological skin picking on the daily functioning, the emotions that accompany this phenomenon, and whether people suffering from this ailment seek help.

More than 46 percent respondents declared that they scratched the skin at least occasionally in the week preceding the study. 36 percent admitted that they scratched so much that it left visible changes in the skin, and 5% declared that they felt anxiety caused by scratching. More than 7% respondents met the criteria that would allowed to qualify them for a pathological skin picking disorder.

Most people who admit to skin scratching spend less than a few minutes a day on this activity. The most often picked and scratched areas were the face, the fingers, the head and the palm. Women - compared to men - felt more negative emotions associated with frequent scratching or skin picking. These included: sadness, fear, guilt, self-disgust and shame.

Nearly 45 percent respondents have stated that pathological skin picking should be treated by professionals. In turn, 26 percent believe that they are able to deal with the problem themselves, with no help at all. Dr. Prochwicz noted that for those affected by this condition, it is a great stress and suffering - especially for young people. "Many of them believe that they will be able to deal with this problem themselves. But it is very difficult to control this behaviour" - said Dr. Prochwicz.

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