Hyperesthesia is a heightened sensitivity to stimuli. It may affect any of the senses but often involves touch, pain, and temperature sensations.

We take in the world around us through our senses. There are two basic types of senses: special and general.

The special senses have special sense organs that take in sensory information. They all develop in the head and include the basic five senses.

Conversely, general senses all relate to the sense of touch. They do not have any specialized sense organs and rely on skin receptors to gather sensory information. These include touch, pain, and temperature sensations.

Hyperesthesia is the increased sensitivity to the stimulation of the general senses.

This article discusses hyperesthesia, its causes, symptoms, and more.

A person's hand covered in light, representing hyperesthesia.Share on Pinterest
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Hyperesthesia comes from the Greek words “hyper,” which means “over,” and “aesthesis,” which means “feeling.” Healthcare professionals use this term to refer to cutaneous sensations, which a person feels through their skin.

According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, hyperesthesia involves increased sensitivity to stimulation, excluding the special senses.

This may include sensitivities due to a lowered threshold to a stimulus or an increased response of a sense to a stimulus.

Hyperesthesia may refer to the following sensations:

  • touch
  • thermal sensation without pain
  • pain

While the term may refer to any heightened sensitivity to a stimulus, doctors often use the term to describe increased pain sensitivity from a stimulus.

The most common types of hyperesthesia are allodynia, which involves experiencing pain from a stimulus that does not typically cause pain, and hyperalgesia, an extreme response to a painful stimulus.

The symptoms of hyperesthesia may vary from person to person, depending on the affected peripheral nerve and the extent of the damage.

Many people describe it as a chronic burning type of pain. The pain may be so severe that a person cannot tolerate covering their feet while in bed.

The pain may vary in terms of the following:

  • intensity
  • quality or type, such as burning, shooting pain, tingling
  • frequency
  • aggravating or alleviating factors

Hyperesthesia also may have the following symptoms:

Hyperesthesia often occurs as a symptom of neuropathic pain. This can be present in any disease affecting the somatosensory system. It can have many causes, including:

Any condition that causes damage or injury to the nerves, especially those relating to the somatosensory system, may lead to neuropathic pain.

People with any of the conditions above may develop hyperesthesia due to the damage it causes to the peripheral nerves.

A 2019 study found that sleep shortage increases a person’s risk of postherpetic neuralgia, or a lasting pain in the areas of skin following shingles. This, in turn, increases their risk of hyperesthesia and acute pain intensity.

The reactivation of the varicella virus, or shingles, can also lead to hyperesthesia or paresthesia in the affected skin area.

The cause of hyperesthesia may be challenging to pinpoint because of its varied presentation and causes. The following procedures may help doctors identify the cause of the hyperesthesia and treat it.

The standard diagnostic process for hyperesthesia looks at a person’s:

If a doctor suspects a specific underlying condition, they may perform diagnostic tests, which may include lab and neuroimaging tests.

They will also perform a neurological examination to assess a person’s neurological function. These tests can identify brain, spinal cord, and nerve disorders.

The following special tests can also help identify hyperesthesia:

  • electromyography, a diagnostic test that measures how well the muscles respond to the electrical signals in the motor nerves
  • nerve conduction studies for large nerve fibers
  • punch skin biopsy for small-fiber neuropathy

Treating hyperesthesia can be challenging and may require a multidisciplinary team approach. A healthcare team will aim to:

  • treat underlying causes with medications and other interventions
  • address the functional impairments
  • provide mental health services, if necessary

Most of the time, hyperesthesia occurs as a symptom of peripheral neuropathy due to conditions that include:

  • hypothyroidism
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • diabetes

Hyperesthesia is often chronic. However, there are strategies to reduce its symptoms and effects on a person’s daily life. The following lifestyle changes may help:

When problems in the brain, spinal cord, or nerves are causing hyperesthesia, the doctor may prescribe medications and other treatments to manage the symptoms. They include:

Other treatments may include:

Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness, can be add-ons to other treatments.

The pain during a hyperesthesia episode may feel overwhelming. A person can retreat to a room with little stimulation to avoid additional triggers.

Additionally, deep breathing exercises and calming techniques, such as mindfulness and meditation, may also help.

Hyperalgesia is a general term for heightened sensitivity to a stimulus. It is a type of hyperesthesia and refers to an exaggerated response to a painful stimulus.

Allodynia is also a type of hyperesthesia. People with allodynia show extreme sensitivity to touch. Sensations that do not typically cause pain, including cold temperatures, a light touch, or brushing the skin, become very painful.

The outlook of hyperesthesia depends on the underlying cause. When it occurs as a symptom of a treatable condition, treating the cause may resolve the sensory issue.

However, neuropathic pain, such as hyperesthesia, tends to be chronic. While a doctor may initially prescribe one medication at a time, nearly half of individuals with the condition are on two or more medications.

Several other conditions have similar symptoms to hyperesthesia, including:

Hyperesthesia is a neurological condition that causes a person extreme sensitivity to touch, pain, pressure, and thermal sensations.

Because it involves many possible causes and affected nerves, the condition’s symptoms vary but typically involve pain in varied intensity, frequency, and quality.

A person experiencing hyperesthesia should consult their doctor for diagnosis and treatment. While some may resolve with the management of the underlying cause, some cases of hyperesthesia tend to be chronic and require long-term treatment.