10 Million Kids, 16 Million Adults In US Have Atopic Dermatitis, Or EczemaBy Dr. Max Gomez

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Millions of children and adults in the U.S. have to cope with the constant itching of eczema. And all that scratching can lead to bleeding and infections.

A new technology can finally measure just how much someone is scratching and help to better treat patients, CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported.

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Jan-Kai Chang said his daughter Cynthia’s eczema is so bad that sometimes the five-year-old scratches until she bleeds.

“We tried to ask her to stop scratching when she feels itchy. But you can imagine that it’s too hard,” Chang said.

The itching can be unbearable for the 10 million kids and 16 million adults with atopic dermatitis (eczema). But it’s a challenge to actually measure how much someone is scratching.

Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a first-of-its-kind wearable sensor that can quantify itching by measuring scratching.

“It’s sort of an old saying. ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,'” said Northwestern’s Dr. Steve Xu.

The soft, flexible, wireless device measures vibrations from the hand and can capture all forms of scratching – finger, wrist and elbow motion related.

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An algorithm picks out just scratching and doesn’t flag similar movements, like waving. A study validating it’s accuracy was recently published in Science Advances.

Dr. Xu said having an objective measure of scratching can lead to better care for itchy conditions.

“If things look like they’re getting worse, that might require a treatment change, a treatment adaptation,” Xu said. “And also can reinforce that something is working right, that this child is scratching less, sleeping better.”

Cynthia took part in the sensor testing and her dad said they learned a lot.

“When it’s windy, we have to apply a lot of topical lotion, moisturizer before she went to bed,” Chang said. “And that can significantly reduce the scratching time.”

While the sensor was tested in patients with eczema, it can be used with any condition that causes children and adults to itch.

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Researchers expect the sensor to be widely available as soon as the end of this year.

Dr. Max Gomez