What is allodynia?
Allodynia is an unusual symptom that can result from several nerve-related conditions. When you’re experiencing it, you feel pain from stimuli that don’t normally cause pain. For example, lightly touching your skin or brushing your hair might feel painful.
To ease allodynia, your doctor will try to treat the underlying cause.
What are the symptoms of allodynia?
The main symptom of allodynia is pain from stimuli that don’t usually cause pain. In some cases, you might find hot or cold temperatures painful. You might find gentle pressure on your skin painful. You might feel pain in response to a brushing sensation or other movement along your skin or hair.
Depending on the underlying cause of your allodynia, you might experience other symptoms too.
For example, if it’s caused by fibromyalgia, you might also experience:
- trouble concentrating
- trouble sleeping
If it’s linked to migraines, you might also experience:
- painful headaches
- increased sensitivity to light or sounds
- changes in your vision
What causes allodynia?
Some underlying conditions can cause allodynia. It’s most commonly linked to fibromyalgia and migraine headaches. Postherpetic neuralgia or peripheral neuropathy can also cause it.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder in which you feel muscle and joint pain throughout your body. But it’s not related to an injury or a condition such as arthritis. Instead, it seems to be linked to the way your brain processes pain signals from your body. It’s still something of a medical mystery. Scientists don’t quite understand its roots, but it tends to run in families. Certain viruses, stress, or trauma might also trigger fibromyalgia.
Migraine is a type of headache that causes intense pain. Changes in nerve signals and chemical activity in your brain trigger this type of headache. In some cases, these changes can cause allodynia.
Peripheral neuropathy happens when the nerves that connect your body to your spinal cord and brain become damaged or destroyed. It can result from several serious medical conditions. For example, it’s a potential complication of diabetes.
Postherpetic neuralgia is the most common complication of shingles. This is a disease caused by the varicella zoster virus, which also causes chicken pox. It can damage your nerves and lead to postherpetic neuralgia. Heightened sensitivity to touch is a potential symptom of postherpetic neuralgia.
What are the risk factors for allodynia?
If you have a parent who has fibromyalgia, you’re at higher risk of developing it and allodynia. Experiencing migraines, developing peripheral neuropathy, or getting shingles or chickenpox also raises your risk of developing allodynia.
How is allodynia diagnosed?
If you notice your skin has become more sensitive to touch than normal, you can start to diagnose yourself. You can do this by testing your nerve sensitivity. For example, try brushing a dry cotton pad on your skin. Next, apply a hot or cold compress on your skin. If you experience a painful tingling feeling in response to any of these stimuli, you might have allodynia. Make an appointment with your doctor to get a formal diagnosis.
Your doctor may conduct a variety of tests to assess your nerve sensitivity. They will also ask about your medical history and other symptoms that you might have. This can help them start to identify the cause of your allodynia. Be sure to answer their questions as honestly and completely as possible. Tell them about any pain in your extremities, headaches, poor wound healing, or other changes that you’ve noticed.
If they suspect you might have diabetes, your doctor will likely order blood tests to measure the level of glucose in your bloodstream. They might also order blood tests to check for other possible causes of your symptoms, such as thyroid disease or infection.
How is allodynia treated?
Depending on the underlying cause of your allodynia, your doctor might recommend medications, lifestyle changes, or other treatments.
For example, your doctor might prescribe medications such as lidocaine (Xylocaine) or pregabalin (Lyrica) to help ease your pain. They might also recommend taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as naproxen (Alleve). In some cases, your doctor might recommend treatment with electrical stimulation, hypnotherapy, or other complementary approaches.
It’s also important for your doctor to address the underlying condition that’s causing your allodynia. For instance, successful diabetes treatment can help improve diabetic neuropathy. This can help lower your risk of allodynia.
Identifying triggers that make your allodynia worse can help you manage your condition.
If you experience migraine headaches, certain foods, beverages, or environments might trigger your symptoms. Consider using a journal to track your lifestyle habits and symptoms. Once you’ve identified your triggers, take steps to limit your exposure to them.
Managing stress is also important if you’re living with migraine headaches or fibromyalgia. Stress can bring on symptoms in both of these conditions. Practicing meditation or other relaxation techniques might help you reduce your stress levels.
Wearing clothes made of light fabrics and going sleeveless may also help, if your allodynia is triggered by the touch of clothing.
Social and emotional support
If treatment doesn’t relieve your pain, ask your doctor about mental health counseling. These services might help you learn to adjust to your changing physical health. For example, cognitive behavior therapy can help you change how you think about and react to difficult situations.
It might also help to seek the advice of other people with allodynia. For example, look for support groups in your community or online. In addition to sharing strategies to manage your symptoms, it might help to connect with others who understand your pain.
What is the outlook?
Your outlook will depend on the underlying cause of your allodynia. Ask your doctor for more information about your diagnosis, treatment options, and long-term outlook.