Paradoxically, the drugs doctors often prescribe to relieve pain can increase your sensitivity to uncomfortable stimuli. Two types of chronic pain can result from opioid use – hyperalgesia and allodynia. In observation of Pain Awareness Month, what is the difference between these?
Understanding Hyperalgesia and Allodynia
Hyperalgesia occurs when processes in the nervous system work to heighten the intensity of the pain you feel. Meanwhile, allodynia is pain caused by something that wouldn’t ordinarily hurt, such as a light touch.
Warning signs of these two conditions include:
- Pain that gets progressively worse despite treatment
- Skin sensitivity akin to having a sunburn
- Pain from abnormal causes, such as a hug or your clothes moving across your skin
- Changes in pain patterns or triggers
Researchers haven’t yet pinpointed a specific cause for hyperalgesia and allodynia. However, our current knowledge suggests that abnormalities in the brain and nervous system may work together to cause and maintain opioid-induced pain. For example, overactive receptors in the brain and spinal cord or irregularities in the way your brain processes pain signals could play a role.
Opioid-Induced Pain, or Increased Drug Tolerance?
Not everyone who takes opioids will develop hyperalgesia or allodynia, but prolonged, frequent opioid use can put you at higher risk. Taking higher doses or experimenting with increasing your dosage can also be dangerous. Long-term opioid users develop a tolerance to the medication, making it less effective over time. That’s why it can be challenging to tell the difference between a drug tolerance and new or worsening chronic pain.
Make an appointment with your health provider to discuss your symptoms. Trying to figure out what’s causing your pain by adjusting your dosage on your own can be dangerous because of the risk of experiencing an opioid overdose. The more details you can tell a physician about how your pain has changed and ways it may relate to your opioid usage, the easier it will be for them to arrive at an accurate diagnosis.
Chronic Pain Treatment in San Francisco
At Recovery Without Walls, our Bay Area pain doctors have helped people living with various forms of chronic pain – including migraines, nerve pain and arthritis – lead happier, healthier lives. We also treat opioid addiction. Dr. Howard Kornfeld pioneered buprenorphine use for managing pain and substance use disorders, and he remains a nationally recognized leader in using buprenorphine to minimize addiction and overdose.
We use integrative medicine to create personalized options for each client’s unique needs, including psychotherapy, nutritional support and evidence-based pharmacology. The benefit of this approach is that it addresses the underlying causes of addiction, instead of merely treating superficial symptoms. If you struggle with chronic pain or a substance use disorder, our staff of credentialed experts is here to develop a treatment plan that works for you. Contact us today to learn more.