AskDefine | Define irritate

Dictionary Definition



1 cause annoyance in; disturb, especially by minor irritations; "Mosquitoes buzzing in my ear really bothers me"; "It irritates me that she never closes the door after she leaves" [syn: annoy, rag, get to, bother, get at, rile, nark, nettle, gravel, vex, chafe, devil]
2 excite to an abnormal condition, of chafe or inflame; "Aspirin irritates my stomach" [ant: soothe]
3 excite to some characteristic action or condition, such as motion, contraction, or nervous impulse, by the application of a stimulus; "irritate the glands of a leaf"

User Contributed Dictionary





to cause or induce displeasure or irritation



irritate p


  1. second-person plural present tense of irritare
  2. second-person plural imperative of irritare
  3. feminine plural past participle of irritare

Extensive Definition

Irritation or exacerbation, in biology and physiology, is a state of inflammation or painful reaction to allergy or cell-lining damage. A stimulus or agent which induces the state of irritation is an irritant. Irritants are typically thought of as chemical agents (for example phenol and capsaicin) but mechanical, thermal (heat) and radiative stimuli (for example ultraviolet light or ionising radiations) can also cause irritation.
Irritation also has non-clinical usages referring to bothersome physical or psychological pain or discomfort.

Irritation in organisms

In higher organisms, the allergic response may be cause of irritation. An allergen is defined distinctly from an irritant, however, as allergy requires a specific interaction with the immune system and is thus dependent on the (possibly unique) sensitivity of the organism involved while an irritant, classically, acts in a non-specific manner.
In humans, it is a mild form of suffering, often with anger about the suffering; in particular, if applicable, anger at the person who caused it. This can also be oneself, e.g. when forgetting something or doing something one deems to be stupid.
It is a form of stress, but conversely, if one is stressed by unrelated matters, mild imperfections can cause more irritation than usual: one is irritable; see also sensitivity (human).
In more basic organisms, assigning irritation the status of pain is the perception of the being stimulated - which is not observable although it may be shared (see gate control theory of pain).
It is not proven that oysters can feel pain, but it is known that they react to irritation. When an irritating object becomes trapped within an oyster's shell, it deposits layers of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), slowly increasing in size and producing a pearl. This serves no purpose to the oyster, pearls do not attract mates for the oyster or perform any other function. It seems impossible to find an evolutionary advantage for the ability to produce the pearl, thus it can be explained only as a reaction to an irritation.
It has also been observed that an amoeba avoids being prodded with a pin, but there is not enough evidence to suggest how much it feels this. Irritation is apparently the only universal sense shared by even single-celled creatures.
It is postulated that most such beings also feel pain, but this is a projection - empathy. Some philosophers, notably René Descartes, denied it entirely, even for such higher mammals as dogs or primates like monkeys - Descartes considered intelligence a pre-requisite for the feeling of pain.

See also

irritate in German: Irritation

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abrade, afflict, affront, agent provocateur, aggravate, agonize, ail, alienate, amplify, anger, annoy, arouse, augment, bite, bother, bristle, bug, build up, burn, burn up, chafe, come between, convulse, crucify, cut, damage, deepen, deteriorate, dilapidate, disaffect, distress, disunite, divide, embitter, endamage, enhance, enlarge, enrage, estrange, exacerbate, exasperate, excruciate, exercise, fan the flame, fester, fluster, fret, gall, get, give pain, gnaw, grate, grate on, gravel, grind, gripe, grit, harass, harm, harrow, harry, hassle, heat up, hector, heighten, hot up, huff, hurt, impair, incense, increase, inflame, inflict pain, injure, intensify, irk, jangle the nerves, jar on, kill by inches, lacerate, light the fuse, magnify, make acute, make trouble, make worse, martyr, martyrize, miff, nag, needle, nettle, nip, offend, pain, peeve, pester, pick at, pick on, pierce, pinch, pique, pit against, plague, prick, prolong the agony, provoke, put back, put on edge, put out, put to torture, rack, rankle, rasp, rile, roil, rub, ruffle, separate, set against, set at odds, set at variance, set on, set on edge, set up, sharpen, sic on, sour, sow dissension, stab, sting, stir the blood, stir up, stir up trouble, torment, torture, trouble, try, tweak, twist, vex, weaken, work up, worry, worsen, wound, wring
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