If you feel your frequent headaches make your skin tingle, ache badly, and you continue to scream in pain, you’re suffering from common migraine side effect-skin sensitivity.
Even though the term “skin sensitivity” may sound mild, but when you’re forced to deal with burning, scratching, or shooting pain that’s not easy to ignore, and it also adds a whole new layer to your discomfort, which can badly hit your comfort, sleep, and general quality of life.
Find out the exact reason for your skin sensitivity with migraines, and ways to adjust your treatment plan as this could help.
The Link Between Skin Sensitivity and Migraines
The vast majority of people who suffer from recurring migraine attacks report of intolerable, and sometimes very severe skin sensitivity known as “allodynia”. Many studies show that nearly 84 percent of patients experience some kind of skin discomfort or pain in the hours after their headache hits. Indeed, even simple stroking of the skin surface can give the feeling of sandpaper, which makes activities like hair brushing, shaving, and even wearing jewelry very painful to manage.
There are still so many unknowns when it comes to migraine induced pain, but increased skin sensitivity may be traced to a few sources:
Level of Neuron Activity
There is a difference in the skin sensitivity levels among patients and some will experience widespread sensitivity than others-all those who get daily attacks and younger patients are more vulnerable. One reason for this pattern appears to be heightened neuron activity that eventually damages neurons, causing a “misfire”, and a prolonged and acute skin pain. The more often you get migraine attacks, the more certain pain pathways in your body are activated, but with advancing age, there is much lesser activity on those pathways. So migraine pain may decrease in severity and frequency as you age, which means most people will notice considerable decline in skin pain, too.
Spinal Cord Interference
Although billions of blood vessels in the brain could be the reason for throbbing migraine pain, the spinal cord might be the actual culprit for skin “hypersensitivity”. One popular theory is that pain signals from the brain interact with the nerve cells present in the spinal cord right at the base of the skull. Once these nerves are activated, even a mild blood pumping rhythm through blood vessels in the brain may feel like a big pounding all around your head.
This may help in explaining skin sensitivity around temples and eyes, but what about the acute skin discomfort in other regions? The radiating skin pain could be due to the chain reaction going on in the nerves, where the cluster of sensitized nerves at the skull base go onto sensitize another set of neurons present in the brain’s thalamus region. This often leads to thalamus to mistakenly interpret even normal signals emanating from different body parts as pain signals.
Women experience more migraine headaches than men and more female patients experience extreme skin sensitivity. Even though the cause is still not clear, many researchers believe that female hormones play a big role in allodynia: activity in various pain areas of the brain may change as hormones dip or peak during menstrual cycle. Lower levels of estrogen may allow pain-inducing neurochemcials to quickly increase and this may result in much lower pain threshold.
Better Medication for Effective Pain Control
Some pain relievers can help when it comes to throbbing head pain, but skin sensitivity may not go because many migraine medications target the wrong source of pain. Drugs tend to act on neurons and fibers that carry the initial pain signals-the ones situated in brain that trigger migraine attack-rather than the affected neurons present in the spinal cord.
If you also suffer from skin sensitivity, you should take medications advised by your doctor within first hour of your attack in order to get the desired relief. If you wait much longer, the distorted signals would reach brain, and your spinal cord sensitization will continue.
While ongoing research continues to strive for better ways to address various aspects of migraine pain, currently there is nothing on the horizon to target skin sensitivity. So it’s best to stick to prescribed medication at the first sign of your attack, and take some precautions to relieve the pain.
Learn to Detect your Early Warning Signs
Watch out for tunnel vision, pain on one side of your head, or sensitivity to sound or light, tinging in your toes or fingers, blurry vision, or nausea-all these are clear signs that your migraine is about to strike. Yawning is alos a warning sign that is often ignored by many, as are thirst and food carvings, so if you notice some change in your breathing or eating habits, keep your migraine medications close by to treat the episode without any delay.
If you successfully take control of your primary migraine pain, you may be able to minimize spinal nerve pain that is causing your skin sensitivity. While medication can help, natural stimulants are useful too: oils and aromatherpeutic like rosemary, camamile, peppermint and ginger are reputed to have good pain-relieving properties. However, it is best to consult your doctor before incorporating any kind of treatment-even oils or natural herbs-into your headache management routine.
Be Wary of Irritants
If showering seems too painful, you can switch to bathing with some lukewarm water-a buoyant water and neutral temperature will definitely be more comfortable for your skin. If your migraine sets in, try to dress in light layers (lightweight cotton and billowy linen are good choices), and adjust the bedroom temperature so it’s just warm enough to sleep without any heavy sheets.
If you feel your scalp is too sensitive to style and brush, try using a loose braid for a comfy, neat style that will last throughout the day.
Skin sensitivity is an unfortunate part of your migraine pain, but its comforting to know that research on treatments is ongoing and we can hope to see a good and lasting treatment. In the meantime, it would be helpful to fine tune your treatment plan along with your doctor to ensure you have the right tools to take care of your headache at the first sign of discomfort.