Managing Migraine and Sensitive Skin
If you find that headaches make your skin tingle, ache, and scream in pain, you’re suffering from a very common migraine side effect – skin sensitivity. Sure, sensitive skin may sound mild, but when you have to deal with the scratching, burning, or shooting pain that’s impossible to ignore, it can add a whole new layer to your discomfort, which means a big hit to your sleep, comfort, and general quality of life.
Find out what may be causing your skin sensitivity with migraines, and how an adjustment in your treatment plan may be able to help.
The Link Between Skin Sensitivity and Migraines
The vast majority of migraine sufferers report severe, sometimes even intolerable, skin sensitivity known as “allodynia”: studies show nearly 80% of patients experience extreme skin pain and discomfort in the hours after a migraine headache hits. Indeed, simply stroking the surface of the skin can feel like sandpaper, which makes activities like shaving, hair brushing, and even wearing jewelry too painful to manage.
There are still many unknowns when it comes to migraine-related pain, but the increase in skin sensitivity may be traced to a few sources:
Spinal Cord Interference
Although the blood vessels in the head could explain the throbbing pain of migraines, the spinal cord might actually be responsible for skin “hypersensitivity”. One popular theory suggests that the migraine-related pain signals in the brain interact with the nerve cells in the spinal cord at base of the skull. Once these nerves are activated, even the mild rhythm of blood pumping through the blood vessels of your brain can feel like an incredible pounding all over your head.
This may help to explain the skin sensitivity around the eyes and temples, but how about skin discomfort in other regions? That radiating skin pain could be explained by a chain reaction in the nerves, where the cluster of sensitized nerves at the base of the skull go on to sensitize another set of neurons in the brain’s thalamus region. This may lead the thalamus to mistakenly interpret normal signals from different parts of the body as pain signals.
Level of Neuron Activity
Some people are more likely to experience more widespread skin sensitivity than others – those who suffer from migraines every day and younger patients are especially vulnerable. One theory to explain this pattern is that heightened neuron activity eventually damages the neurons, causing a “misfire”, and prolonged skin pain.
The more often you suffer from migraines, the more certain pain pathways are activated, but as you grow older, there’s less activity in those pathways. Migraine pain tends to decrease in frequency and severity as you age, which means most people notice a decline in skin pain, too.