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What does it mean when the lightest touch results in excruciating pain. It could be a condition known as allodynia, a common side-effect of migraine. People suffering from migraines often report this increased sensitivity to innocuous stimuli like sound, smell or light.

According to AMF Chairman Dr. David Dodick, 40% to 70% of people experience allodynia when having a migraine attack. So, if you are one of these people you can be assured that you are not suffering alone.

Furthermore, allodynia is a condition where normal stimuli, not normally painful, produce acute pain. Often, when people are suffering a migraine attack they will experience extreme discomfort from simple daily tasks like brushing their hair, laying their face on a pillow or washing their face.

Brushing hair causes pain in Allodynia
Pain Brushing Hair
Source: AMF.
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What is this condition

Allodynia is not an increased sensitivity to pain or the result of physical damage. The condition is a side-effect of migraine, not a phase of a migraine attack. Allodynia demonstrates that a migraine is more than just a headache.

However, the condition is a pain processing dysfunction of the central nervous system (CNS). This condition is not exclusive to migraines and can feature in a number of other pain syndromes like fibromyalgia.

In this condition the nerve signals that would be a normal part of proprioception are sent as pain signals to the brain.

Types of Allodynia

  1. Static allodynia results from a light touch on the skin
  2. Dynamic allodynia occurs with movement across the skin.
  3. Thermal allodynia occurs in response to mild changes in temperature.

Allodynia does not always accompany migraines. Some of the factors that increase the risk of developing this pain sensitivity are:

  • high frequency and intensity of migraine attack
  • number of years of living with migraine
  • monthly changes in hormone levels for women
  • obesity
  • smoking
  • childhood trauma

Treatment for Allodynia

Man clutching painful arm
Man clutching arm in pain
Source: Medical News Today

Preventive treatments can reduce the frequency and severity of the condition and acute treatments such as triptans, can stop these pain signals. Healthy lifestyle habits like regular exercise and stress management also play a role in managing your migraine and keeping painful side effects like allodynia under control.

What are the symptoms of Allodynia?

One of the main symptoms of the condition is pain from stimuli that don’t usually cause pain. Hot or cold temperatures, gentle pressure on your skin or brushing your hair all produce pain where this would not normally be the situation.

Furthermore, you may experience additional symptoms depending on the underlying cause.

For example, if fibromyalgia is the cause you may experience:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • trouble concentrating
  • trouble sleeping
  • fatigue

If the underlying cause is migraines, you might also experience:

  • painful headaches
  • increased sensitivity to light or sounds
  • changes in your vision
  • nausea

What causes this malady?

Allodynia may be caused by fibromyalgia, migraines, postherpetic neuralgia or peripheral neuropathy.

Some sufferers may experience severe pain even from a few hairs brushing against their skin. Symptoms can vary in intensity. Some people may feel a burning sensation while others feel an ache or squeezing pain.

But, Allodynia can be disabling and limit the activities a person is able to do. This can lead to a decrease in their quality of life.

And, common complications of the condition include:

Allodynia may occur due to increased responsiveness or malfunction of nociceptors, which are a particular type of nerve.

However, there is not one specific medical test to diagnose allodynia. Instead, a doctor will perform a physical exam, take a medical history, and review a person’s symptoms.

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Allodynia is a painful nerve dysfunction