To start, it’s important to understand what hyperalgesia is. There are several different types, but all people who experience this condition deal with extreme pain. It occurs when there is damage to the nerves and/or chemical changes to the nerve pathways that deal with pain in the body.
Typically, hyperalgesia is caused by tissue injury or inflammation. When you’re experiencing hyperalgesia, it’s important to notice symptoms and contact your doctor right away so it doesn’t get worse. It can also be confused with allodynia, but they are separate conditions.
Allodynia vs. hyperalgesia
When it comes to pain issues, it can be easy to confuse allodynia and hyperalgesia. While similar, both of these conditions are different. Allodynia is when a person experiences pain from things that shouldn’t cause pain. For example, if someone’s hair brushes against your skin and it hurts, that’s allodynia.
With hyperalgesia, you experience pain from something that would cause pain normally, but more intensely. There are several types of hyperalgesia that occur for different reasons.
Types of hyperalgesia
Injury-induced hyperalgesia is when you have increased pain due to a tissue injury or nerve damage. There are two different types:
- Intense pain around the injury
- When pain spreads from the injury to other areas
This type of hyperalgesia refers to having increased pain sensitivity after taking opioids such as heroin, morphine or fentanyl. They are typically used to relieve pain, but with a high enough dose, it can reverse the effect and make the pain worse.
What causes hyperalgesia?
When you’re injured, your body releases pain signals. These signals communicate with your nociceptors to increase your pain response. When they’re working in overdrive, this can cause hyperalgesia. Other causes include:
- Brain or spinal cord injury
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Shingles or herpes zoster
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
Symptoms of hyperalgesia
The main symptom of hyperalgesia is pain. To experience hyperalgesia, you need to be experiencing something that would be painful to anyone. The pain will be heightened and much more intense than it would be to someone else. There are two types of pain commonly experienced:
Referred pain is when you feel the pain near the site of the issue, but the pain is more intense. This happens because the area where you feel the pain shares nerve connections with the actual injured area. Think of it like when you see someone fall and hurt themselves and you flinch at the thought.
This type is a form of deep pain that affects the organs deep within the body. Internal pain becomes more intense and it can also cause referred pain. A good example of this is migraines. Your brain doesn’t actually have nerves, but your brain interprets the signals of pain.
Other symptoms include:
- A lower tolerance for pain
- A strong reaction to pain
- A faster response to pain
- Pain signals that don’t stop firing after something painful happens
As with many similar conditions, treating hyperalgesia depends on the type that it is. It’s important to consult with your doctor to ensure you’re following the right treatment plan for the type of condition you have. Treatment can include:
- Nerve block
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
- Nerve ablations
- Treatment may also include medications
- Oral pills
- IV meds
Over-the-counter drugs, like Tylenol and NSAIDs, can be used to treat hyperalgesia as well as prescriptions, such as steroids and antidepressants.
The bottom line
There’s no way to predict when hyperalgesia will happen, so as soon as you start experiencing symptoms, contact your physician.
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- “Dictionary of cancer terms – hyperalgesia”. National Cancer Institute
- “What Causes Hyperalgesia? Types & Treatment”. MedicineNet
- “Hyperalgesia: What It Is, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment”. Cleveland Clinic