The central chemical in itch is histamine, a molecule released by mast cells in the skin. Histamine is the chemical that causes the itch and reddening when bitten by insects. It binds to local nerve endings on specific receptors.
Itch from cutaneous (skin-related) stimuli, such as movement of small hairs on the body, is transmitted along the same pathway as pain. Itch caused by histamine is transmitted to the brain by a different neural pathway, described in 2001 by Andrew et al. As with pain, histamine-induced itch travels via the spinothalamic tract, but in fibres specific for itch.
The feeling of itchiness can be caused by movement of hairs, or release of a chemical (histamine) from cells under the skin. Itchiness is regarded as protective, as it helps creatures remove parasites that land on them.
In developing countries, swimmer's itch translates into "rice paddy itch", "clam diggers itch", "sawah" to the rice farmers in Malaysia, "kubure" or "kobanyo" to the Japanese rice farmers or "hoi con" to Thai rice farmers.
Swimmer's itch is a patchy red pinpoint skinrash associated with itching on the parts of the body that have been in the water.
Common lore in the media is that this is caused by "duck fleas" in freshwater and "sea lice" in the marine environment.
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