You may not realize just how often you touch your skin or scratch it, especially if you are feeling uncomfortable during an eczema outbreak.
It’s a natural impulse to rake your nails across your sensitive skin, but doing so is not such a good idea for the health and integrity of your skin barrier. Unfortunately, many people wind up scratching their itchy skin while they’re asleep and unaware.
To address this issue, researchers are developing a sensor that people wear to objectively keep track of how often they actually scratch their skin.
Many Reasons to Avoid Touching and Scratching Your Skin
Avoiding making your eczema flare-ups worse is just one reason to avoid touching your skin or scratching it.
As the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology explained, “to help prevent infections, keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.” That’s because your mucous membranes are how germs can enter your body, infecting your respiratory system.
Wearable Sensor Tracks How Much You Scratch
Instead of tying your hands behind your back or sitting on your hands while you work (that’s not going to last long if you need to type and don’t have voice recognition!), people can strap on a sensor that keeps track of contact for you, automatically.
IEEE Spectrum noted that researchers from Northwestern University have built a wearable sensor that provides an accurate tally of how often an individual scratches his or her skin.
It works by strapping to the back of your hand. The device contains sensors that detect motion as well as vibration, which is similar to how a smartphone shifts a video game as you move it around while playing and can vibrate instead of playing a ringtone when someone calls you.
The sensor doesn’t just record crude movements. It needs to distinguish between actual touching/scratching and other motions people make with their hands.
So the team from Northwestern included machine learning algorithm (a fancy way to describe a set of instructions and steps in computer code). An algorithm helps the device improve over time how it detects and categorizes people’s motions.
“The ability to quantify scratching as an objective way to measure itch is really important across a wide range of medical conditions,” according to Shuai (Steve) Xu, who is a biomedical engineer as well as a board-certified dermatologist working at Northwestern University.
So for patients who feel uncomfortable from eczema, a system that can monitor how often they actually reach out to touch their painful skin can help them improve their quality of life.
Xu and colleagues at Northwestern want to be able to quantify how itchy people feel because of the advances it can bring to medical science.
In addition to bringing eczema relief, a wearable monitor can pave the way for scientists to improve new drugs they are studying. “For example, it would give doctors and patients a more objective way to determine whether a medication is working. That’s particularly true for young children, who may not be able to articulate how their body changes over time.”
Details About the Sensor
The Northwestern researchers created a flexible sensor that can detect motion plus acoustical-mechanical signals. These high-frequency signals (1,600 Hz) are actually generated by our hand moving and the vibrations from our fingers as they scratch skin.
Then, the researchers trained a machine learning algorithm on 10 people. They asked the test subjects to wear a sensor on their hands while scratching different parts of their body. The equipment kept track of the frequencies generated when scratching various locations.
That’s how they could distinguish the acoustical-mechanical signals made when a finger touches a face compared to a hand just waving around or with fingers moving up and down while the person writes a text message.
Finally, the researchers tested the sensors on 11 children suffering from eczema. Each kid wore the sensor at home every night for as many as 21 days. Parents recorded infrared video with a camera set up next to their child’s bed.
Northwestern’s research team then compared about 400 hours of videos to the data they gathered from the sensor. They verified the system was 99.3% accurate in monitoring eczema scratching while people are asleep.
This means it is ready for drug manufacturers to test their medications to see how well they do at curbing scratching.
Taking Better Care of Yourself During Eczema Flare-Ups With a Wearable Monitor
The notion of a wearable monitor to help you avoid touching your skin, to help reduce the discomfort of eczema flare-ups sounds like science fiction. But the researchers behind the wearable monitor have an intriguing concept. It does seem like a device many individuals would benefit from wearing.
Such gear would have a positive effect on public health. Its ability to prevent individuals from touching their face and becoming susceptible to catching a communicable disease like COVID-19 makes it quite appealing.
And giving eczema suffers a break from unwittingly touching their skin is a worthy goal. In the meantime, if your skin has been ravaged by eczema, whether or not you’ve been scratching, you should know that soothing relief is available now from Eczema Honey Co’s Eczema Honey Original Skin-Soothing Cream.
- Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology: Don’t Touch Your Face!
- IEEE Spectrum: Wearable Sensor Tracks How Much You Scratch