Emerging Methods to Objectively Assess Pruritus in Atopic Dermatitis

Mary Patricia Smith, Karen Ly, Quinn Thibodeaux, Thulasi Weerasinghe, Jashin J. Wu, Gil Yosipovitch, Tina Bhutani, Wilson Liao

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Introduction: Atopic dermatitis (AD) is an inflammatory skin disease with a chronic, relapsing course. Clinical features of AD vary by age, duration, and severity but can include papules, vesicles, erythema, exudate, xerosis, scaling, and lichenification. However, the most defining and universal symptom of AD is pruritus. Pruritus or itch, defined as an unpleasant urge to scratch, is problematic for many reasons, particularly its negative impact on quality of life. Despite the profoundly negative impact of pruritus on patients with AD, clinicians and researchers lack standardized and validated methods to objectively measure pruritus. The purpose of this review is to discuss emerging methods to assess pruritus in AD by describing objective patient-centered tools developed or enhanced over the last decade that can be utilized by clinicians and researchers alike. Methods: This review is based on a literature search in Medline, Embase, and Web of Science databases. The search was performed in February 2019. The keywords were used “pruritus,” “itch,” “atopic dermatitis,” “eczema,” “measurements,” “tools,” “instruments,” “accelerometer,” “wrist actigraphy,” “smartwatch,” “transducer,” “vibration,” “brain mapping,” “magnetic resonance imaging,” and “positron emission tomography.” Only articles written in English were included, and no restrictions were set on study type. To focus on emerging methods, prioritization was given to results from the last decade (2009–2019). Results: The search yielded 49 results in PubMed, 134 results in Embase, and 85 results in Web of Science. Each result was independently reviewed in a standardized manner by two of the authors (M.S., K.L.), and disagreements between reviewers were resolved by consensus. Relevant findings were categorized into the following sections: video surveillance, acoustic surveillance, wrist actigraphy, smart devices, vibration transducers, and neurological imaging. Examples are provided along with descriptions of how each technology works, instances of use in research or clinical practice, and as applicable, reports of validation studies and correlation with other methods. Conclusion: The variety of new and improved methods to evaluate pruritus in AD is welcomed by clinicians, researchers, and patients alike. Future directions include next-generation smart devices as well as exploring new territories, such as identifying biomarkers that correlate to itch and machine-learning programs to identify itch processing in the brain. As these efforts continue, it will be essential to remain patient-centered by developing techniques that minimize discomfort, respect privacy, and provide accurate data that can be used to better manage itch in AD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-420
Number of pages14
JournalDermatology and Therapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019


  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Diagnosis
  • Eczema
  • Itch
  • Pruritus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dermatology


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