Hyperesthesia refers to increased sensitivity of any of your senses, such as sight, sound, touch, and smell. It can affect just one or all of the senses.
Often, the heightening of an individual sense is referred to by a separate name. For example, increased sensitivity to touch is called tactile sensitivity, and increased sensitivity to sound is called auditory sensitivity.
The term also refers to increased pain sensations. According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, hyperesthesia includes two different subcategories of enhanced pain sensation:
- Hyperalgesia. A stimulus triggers increased or extreme sensitivity to pain.
- Allodynia. A stimulus that is not usually painful suddenly triggers pain.
We explain how hyperesthesia shows itself, why it happens, and how to manage it.
The symptoms of hyperesthesia vary between people. They depend on which senses are affected and how severely:
- Some people with touch sensitivity can experience severe pain when a stimulus triggers their nerves.
- People with auditory sensitivity can hear painfully loud noises when none have occurred in the environment.
- Those with smell sensitivity often report a wide range of smells without the presence of a stimulus.
Some people will experience a combination of these symptoms. Severe hyperesthesia can also affect the nervous system, which might lead to nerve inflammation and seizures.
Neuropathic pain is a common underlying cause of hyperesthesia, but many diseases or lesions of the nervous system can lead to this type of pain.
Associated health conditions and stimuli
- systemic diseases like diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, and hypothyroidism
- infectious diseases, such as HIV, herpes, hepatitis C, and varicella
- toxic causes, including alcohol, certain chemotherapy drugs, and immunosuppressants
- mechanical causes, such as physical trauma, complex regional pain syndrome, nerve root compression, and phantom limb pain after an amputation
- hereditary causes like Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
Many people in menopause also
The treatment for hyperesthesia centers around addressing the underlying cause. If you experience hyperesthesia due to diabetic neuropathy, keeping your blood glucose under control can help keep the problem from getting worse.
If a vitamin B12 deficiency is causing the hyperesthesia, a physician might prescribe B12 supplements. After treating the underlying condition or removing the triggering stimulus, most people will find that the symptoms of hyperesthesia resolve.
If there’s an underlying problem in the brain or spinal cord, your doctor will assess and treat this accordingly.
Managing the effects of episodes
Some conditions linked to neuropathy, like diabetes, are chronic. It’s important to find methods of reducing the physical and emotional sensations around hypersensitivity.
What you can do
It’s important to remember that the condition is usually manageable. Making certain lifestyle changes can ease your symptoms considerably. You may want to try to:
- Reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake, or eliminate them completely.
- Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet.
- Train yourself to stay calm during flares of hypersensitivity by regularly practicing yoga or meditation.
What your doctor can do
Some medical interventions might also help, including:
- Physical therapy. This can help people who experience increased pain as a result of their hyperesthesia regain mobility and improve their quality of life.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can be effective in reducing the unpleasant responses caused by any stimulus.
- Antiepileptic drugs, including gabapentinoids. People experiencing seizures can take anticonvulsant medications to reduce the frequency and severity of their seizures. These medications can also help reduce hyperesthesia pain in people who don’t experience seizures.
- Anxiolytic medications. People can take anxiety-reducing medication if they are experiencing fear and anxiety around their condition. Hyperesthesia can be debilitating and affect your ability to be around the many stimuli of daily life. This can have a negative effect on your mental health.
- Antidepressant medications. Antidepressants can help reduce neuropathic pain as well as depression.
However, the review largely used studies that tested the effects of flavonoids in a lab and on animals, rather than in humans. The review also focused only on peripheral neuropathy, but other types like central neuropathy might work differently.
So, it’s difficult to say that the findings can carry over to humans or all types of neuropathy, but they are promising.
What to do during an episode of hyperesthesia
In the moment, hyperesthesia can feel overwhelming and never-ending.
If you’re experiencing an episode of hyperesthesia, lie down in a dark room that’s as free from stimuli as possible. This can help the symptoms pass more quickly.
Try to remain calm and practice some deep breathing exercises.
Your outlook for hyperesthesia will depend on the underlying cause. Supplementing a B12 deficiency can clear up hyperesthesia symptoms entirely. For neurodiverse people, managing overstimulation will likely be a lifelong health goal.
Hyperesthesia can be unsettling and may cause pain, fear, and anxiety in those who live with it.
Hyperesthesia can exist on its own or as a symptom of another related health condition. Whichever applies to you, your doctors will try to diagnose the root cause so it can be treated effectively.