Answers to frequently asked questions about allodynia and migraine
People living with migraine often report heightened sensitivity to sound, smell and light. But what does it mean when a simple touch results in pain throughout your body? It could be allodynia, a fairly common side effect of migraine. According to AMF Chairman Dr. David Dodick, 40% to 70% of people experience allodynia when having a migraine attack—so, if you experience these symptoms, know that you are not alone.
Here are some of the basics about allodynia.
What is allodynia?
Allodynia is the experience of pain from stimuli that isn’t normally painful. People with migraine will often describe this experience by saying, “My hair hurts.” Brushing the hair may produce pain, as will other simple activities such as washing your face, laying your head on a pillow, or a gentle tap on the wrist. Allodynia may or may not be felt on just the head and some people compare it to having sunburn all over their body.
It’s also important to mention what allodynia is not. Despite the pain, allodynia is not an increased sensitivity to pain or the result of physical damage. It should also be viewed as a side effect of migraine, not a phase of a migraine attack. While far from life-threatening, allodynia is another example that migraine is more than just a headache.
3 types of allodynia:
- Static allodynia results from light touch on the skin.
- Dynamic allodynia occurs with movement across the skin.
- Thermal allodynia occurs in response to mild changes in temperature.
How does allodynia develop?
Allodynia is the result of a pain processing dysfunction in the nervous system called central sensitization. It isn’t exclusive to migraine, but common in a variety of painful conditions. When allodynia strikes, nerves that carry pain signals react by sending pain signals in response to touch, movement, or temperatures that wouldn’t normally cause pain. It’s an independent symptom that may or may not resolve when the migraine attack subsides.
What are risk factors for developing allodynia?
Not everyone living with migraine develops allodynia. Factors that put some individuals at greater risk for allodynia include the high frequency and intensity of migraine attacks, and number of years living with migraine. Additionally, women are more likely to experience allodynia with migraine than men due to monthly changes in hormone levels. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking and a history of adverse childhood events, like abuse or trauma.
How are allodynia and migraine related?
Allodynia is an often-overlooked side effect of migraine that affects up to 70% of those living with this disabling disease. It is more common in people who have migraine with aura. While the frequency and severity of migraine attacks increase the risk of allodynia, the presence of allodynia also says a lot about migraine. “The presence of allodynia indicates the severity of the attack,” says Dr. Dodick, “It also increases the likelihood that the attack will progress and that more frequent attacks will occur.”
What are my treatment options?
Because allodynia increases the risk of episodic migraine progressing to chronic migraine, it’s important to seek treatment early. Preventive treatments can reduce the frequency and severity of allodynia, and, when taken early in the migraine cycle, 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 at bay.
If these symptoms sound familiar to you, don’t ignore them. The longer allodynia goes untreated, the greater your risk of developing chronic migraine. Record instances of allodynia in your headache diary and consult your doctor about the best course of action. You can use our website for help finding a doctor or to learn about available treatment options.