Scratching the Surface: The World’s Largest Itch Study

A woman in a short-sleeve t-shirt scratching her arm
Article Summary
  • Dermatologist Dr. Gil Yosipovitch was co-author of the largest study of itch in the world.
  • The research team found that nearly 40% of more than 50,000 people on six continents reported itchiness in the past week.
  • Dr. Yosipovitch hopes the study raises awareness of itch as a public health issue.

Gil Yosipovitch, M.D., has wanted to conduct a worldwide survey of itch for years, but struggled to secure the funding.

The professor and Stiefel Chair in Medical Dermatology in the Dr. Phillip Frost Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine had already completed several smaller studies of itch prevalence in specific regions. But those studies “don’t reflect all the population of the world and they were limited in numbers,” he said.

In June, he and colleagues from France published a study evaluating itch in more than 50,000 people living on every continent but Antarctica in the British Journal of Dermatology.

“This is clearly the largest study of itch,” said Dr. Yosipovitch, who also directs the Miami Itch Center. “And it was very striking that around 39% of the people suffered from pruritus.”

To quantify the problem, Dr. Yosipovitch and his team surveyed 50,552 people in 20 countries to answer questions about their recent experiences with itchiness. The sample included men and women from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia across varying sociodemographic backgrounds reflecting each country.

Gil Yosipovitch, M.D. in his white clinic coat
Dr. Gil Yosipovitch hopes the world itch study identifies itch as a public health issue.

The responses were striking:

• In the past week, 39.8% said they’d experienced itchiness.

• More than 40% said they’d had common skin diseases such as eczema, acne, seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis within the last 12 months.

• People with skin conditions were about three times more likely to suffer from pruritus than those without.

• Itch was particularly common in people who reported atopic dermatitis, chronic hand eczema and psoriasis.

• Even 28.8% of those who said they didn’t have a skin disease still reported experiencing itch within the last seven days.

Aside from skin conditions, age was the biggest itch facto, with participants older than 65 most likely to say they’d itched recently. Women were more likely to have had itchiness than men and the data suggested people in Africa may experience more itchiness than those in Europe.

Although that trend wasn’t statistically significant, Dr. Yosipovitch said his previous work also implied that people of color may experience more itch than Caucasians, a possible reason for the imbalance in prevalence between the continents.

Tags: chronic itch, Dr. Gil Yosipovitch, itch, Miami Itch Center