For the last three days I’ve been trying to scratch the hide right off my bones. It’s not an itch I can ignore. It’s deep, somehow under the skin and so intense I could no sooner ignore it than I could ignore an alarm clock blaring Sweet Home Alabama in my ear at 5 am and my nails are in great shape, primed for the job for which they were created. If I could, I’d go rub my bare body against a naked oak, but I doubt I’d get anymore satisfaction. In fact, giving in to scratching only seems to encourage it.
Absent are all signs of allergen exposure. I have no hives, no welts, no bumps, no signs of skin irritation. My skin is well lubricated with the only lotion I ever use. Currently, I have psoriasis plaque on exactly zero percent of my body. If I were having an MCAS reaction to an allergen, I’d have a welt on my neck. I like to call it my “Uneasy button” because it usually helps me identify quickly when I’m being exposed to a new allergen, usual chemical. I’ve been having nasal symptoms on and off, but no welt.
I’ve been taking my allergy medication and I haven’t ingested or applied anything new to my body, yet I am hit again and again with the sensation of itching in varied swaths of skin along my side, a shoulder, a finger, an elbow, my neck, my chest. It moves from one area of my body to another, a traveling salesman determined to sell me its bevy of bad mojo. I want so much to brush it off and say it’s all in my head, it isn’t real. If I just ignore it, it’ll go away. Then it becomes that alarm clock, waking me from my sleep scratching my right shoulder with the intent of a dog with fleas.
At this point, I have no choice but to assume that what I’m dealing with is another bout of allodynia. My first clue should have been the feel of the itching. It feels so “deep,” like it’s below the surface of the skin and the itch is intense and immediate, almost buzzing in its strength.
What is allodynia?
Allodynia is a common comorbid condition among spoonies that is believed to be a malfunction of the neurological system linked to chronic migraine. The messages between the sensing organ and the brain are getting mixed up in translation due to damaged neurological tissue (see diagram).
It is described as extreme sensitivity of the sense being affected. Generally, the result is a pain sensation, but it can also be a sensation of itching or some other irritation like what I’m experiencing now. In this instance, it is tactile; my skin is reacting to all contact as an irritant and my body is sending signals to take care of it, in the form of itching.
I’m sure some people who learn about allodynia think “Who cares? So you’re a little itchy? It isn’t even real.” It is real. Your body perceives it as real and that makes it so, just as the pain we suffer of which no source can be identified is equally as real. It’s also extremely disruptive to one’s life. Spending days to weeks stuck dealing with allodynia can be hell. Not only can it keep you from getting a good nights’ sleep, it can become so severe that even wearing clothing or feeling the bed on your back can become unbearable. The first time I had allodynia, it focused on my head, face and neck. In an act of sheer desperation I took the clippers to my head in order to get some relief from the torture that was my hair. It imbues a desperation that few things can.
What helps Allodynia?
One article suggests controlling and preventing migraines is the best way to avoid allodynia, but so far that’s been elusive for me and I know it’s difficult for many others, too. I experience migraines and allodynia (most especially auditory and visual) on a regular basis, but rarely to the extent that I’m experiencing it right now in the tactile form and I have no idea what brought it on, though it could be due to the increase in migraines I’ve been having.
During an attack of allodynia, whether it seems to be accompanied by migraine or not, I go directly for Benadryl. Why it works is unclear as allodynia is definitely not an allergic reaction, but Benadryl actually has a number of useful neurological applications, which really makes me wonder if they completely understand the drug. It works great to give migraine medication an added boost and has long been used as an ingredient in sleep aids. Since the only side effect I’ve ever suffered from it is drowsiness, I use it for all these purposes when necessary.
After being on the Benadryl for a couple days, it often seems to reset the body and things go back to normal. Since I have so many allergies and often develop new ones, I do wait a couple of days to make sure I don’t develop allergy symptoms. It sucks to suffer, but I want to make sure of what it is that I’m treating before I do so. That way I won’t expose myself to an allergen again unwittingly if that’s indeed what it turns out to be. If you have a similar profile, you may want to take the same precautions, but know that if you too suffer from allodynia, Benadryl might be a solution for you.
Discovered strategies of your own that work for your allodynia symptoms? Please share them in the comments below!