You may be experiencing a condition that leaves your skin sensitive to touch. It can be hard to figure out why your skin feels so sensitive or even painful simply from light touching or even hot or cold conditions.
There are several reasons you may be experiencing this skin sensitivity as well as a variety of underlying conditions that may cause it. Let’s explore 4 of these possibilities so that you can learn how to better manage your pain. You’ll also be better equipped to discuss your concerns with your healthcare team.
Possibility #1: Shingles
Shingles is a viral infection that causes a very painful and blistery rash. The rash may happen anywhere on your body, but it most commonly wraps around the torso. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox: varicella zoster virus (VZX). If you’ve experienced chicken pox, you can experience shingles.
There are an approximately 1 million cases of shingles diagnosed yearly in the United States. This means 1 in every 3 Americans are affected.
If you are over 40 years of age and have been exposed to the chicken pox virus, you are at risk for developing shingles. Increased risk factors include being older than 50 years of age and having a weakened immune systems.
The symptoms of shingles usually only affect one section of one side of your body.
Common shingles symptoms include:
- Sensitivity to touch – including light touching
- Pain, burning, numbness or tingling
- A red rash that starts a few days after the pain signals begins
- Blisters that fill with fluid, open up and then crust over
Other shingles symptoms include:
- Light sensitivity
Shingles affects people differently, and the pain associated with shingles may be very intense. While a painful rash is common, some people never develop the rash.
Early signs of shingles include:
If you are in the early stages of shingles, you are likely to experience skin sensitivity issues such as itchy or tingly sensations. This is likely to occur before you see a rash. You may also experience:
- Sensitivity to light
- Body aches
If you suspect you are experiencing shingles, reach out to your healthcare team right away, especially if you have a rash around your eye, a widespread rash, are over 50 years old or know someone with a weakened immune system.
Possibility #2: Fibromyalgia
People living with fibromyalgia know how the widespread body pain can cause tender skin. Even a gentle touch can feel unbearably painful. In fact, sensitivity to touch is one of the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia affects about 4 million adults in the United States, which is about 2% of the adult population. While the cause of fibromyalgia is not known, but it can be effectively treated and managed. There are quite a number of risk factors for the condition, including simply being a woman. Fibromyalgia is prevalent in women; it’s actually twice as likely for women to have the condition than men.
Common fibromyalgia symptoms include:
- Numbness and tingling in hands, arms, feet, and legs
- Fatigue and problems sleeping
- Concentration and memory problems (a*k*a fibro fog)
- Body stiffness
The tingling feeling might be in one specific area or be widespread over your body. As with any chronic pain health condition, certain things may trigger your fibromyalgia symptoms to worsen, causing increased skin sensitivity.
Other fibromyalgia symptoms include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Problems urinating
- Painful menstrual cramps
- Anxiety or depression
Typically, fibromyalgia occurs with other types of health conditions, such as migraine headaches, autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome and others. Fibromyalgia symptoms may improve once other health conditions are addressed, but identifying an effective fibromyalgia pain treatment is important.
Possibility #3: Autoimmune disease
Autoimmune diseases occur when your immune system mistakenly attacks your body. These conditions are systemic, affecting the entire body.
Autoimmune disease 101
Some autoimmune diseases that don’t directly affect the skin may still cause skin sensitivity or redness. However, there are some types of autoimmune diseases that directly affect the skin. Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are two such examples. These conditions cause a build up of skin cells that may appear scaly and red. Approximately 30% of those living with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis, an inflammatory form of arthritis.
Common psoriatic arthritis symptoms include:
- Pain, tenderness and/or swelling in tendons
- Swollen fingers and toes
- Stiffness, pain, throbbing, swelling and tenderness in one or more joints
- Reduced range of motion
- Morning stiffness and tiredness
- Nail changes
- Redness and pain of the eye, such as conjunctivitis
Research shows that delaying treatment for psoriatic arthritis as little as 6 months can result in permanent joint damage. Early recognition, diagnosis and treatment of psoriatic arthritis are critical to relieve pain and inflammation and help prevent joint damage.
Talk to your healthcare team regularly about your autoimmune disease and skin sensitivity symptoms. Your autoimmune disease treatment plan may need to be modified.
Possibility #4: Dermatitis
Dermatitis is a term that characterizes skin inflammation. Typically, dermatitis causes an itchy rash and swollen or red skin. Eczema, dandruff and allergic reaction rashes are all forms of dermatitis.
You may start out with eczema and then perhaps food allergies. From there, you may develop asthma as well as inhalant allergies, or even allergic rhinitis and hay fever. It’s important for those living with eczema who also have allergy concerns to practice good skin care, as to lessen their allergy concerns. Caring for your skin helps it to provide a strong protective barrier. Allergens can enter through the skin, so without that strong barrier, those with dermatitis can be sensitized to the allergen.
Common dermatitis symptoms include:
- Itchy rash on swollen, reddened skin
- Skin that blisters, oozes, develops a crust or flakes off
If you come into contact with something you are allergic to, you may have an allergic reaction. Hives may happen in an allergic reaction, and they are often an itchy and painful rash. Anytime you have or suspect an allergic reaction, it’s important to talk to your healthcare team or go to an urgent care clinic immediately.
Having skin sensitive to touch may be a sign of an underlying condition, such as some of the ones mentioned here. However, there are many conditions that may cause sensitive skin. It’s important to talk with your healthcare team about your skin sensitivities and other symptoms, so you can get on the right treatment plan.
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