The development of an objective method for measuring scratch in children with atopic dermatitis suitable for clinical use

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004 Jan;50(1):33-40. doi: 10.1016/s0190-9622(03)02480-0.


Itch is a major symptom of skin disease and remains poorly studied. We have used limb-worn digital accelerometers, and infrared video of patients as a gold standard, on children with atopic dermatitis and control subjects in their own homes at night. Video analysis shows that nocturnal scratching and restlessness are more complex than we first thought, with many movements that potentially damage the skin not conforming to stereotypical scratch movements. Children with atopic dermatitis spent a mean of 46 minutes less time motionless or sleeping at night than control subjects (468 +/- 3 [SEM] vs 422 +/- 37 [SEM], P<.001). Children with atopic dermatitis showed 2 to 3 times as much scratching or restlessness activity as control subjects, with little overlap between groups (P<.01). Scratching and restlessness were highly correlated with each other (0.94, P<.01). Accelerometer scores were highly correlated with video results (rho>0.02, P<.01, for scratching, restlessness, and sleeping time). Individual limb scores were highly correlated with each other (rho approximately 0.87-0.98), suggesting that little information would be lost if only 1 limb was measured. There was little relation between parental assessment of scratch and objective measured scratch. Accelerometers provide a useful and practical way of assessing scratching at night in the patient's own home and could be used as an objective measure of disease activity both in clinical trials and in everyday clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Behavior
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / diagnosis*
  • Dermatology / methods
  • Humans
  • Movement
  • Pruritus
  • Video Recording