By Team

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Millions of children in the U.S. have to cope with the constant itching of eczema. Now researchers have developed a new technology that can finally measure just how much someone is scratching and help better treat patients.

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

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

The itching can be unbearable for the 10 million kids with atopic dermatitis or eczema, but to actually measure how much someone is scratching is a challenge.

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

The soft, flexible, wireless device measures vibrations from the hand and can capture all forms of scratching: finger, wrist, and elbow-motion related. An algorithm doesn’t flag similar movements like waving.

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Dr. Steve Zu at Northwestern 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,” he said. “It 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.

“So, if it’s windy day, during the night she will start scratching like crazy. So, we know when it’s windy, we have to apply a lot of topical, like lotion moisturizer before she went to bed,” he said.  “And that can, you know, significantly reduce the scratching time.”

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Researchers expect the sensor to be widely available as soon as the end of this year. While the sensor was tested in patients with eczema, researchers say it can be used with any condition that causes itch. Team