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Is hair color related to pain tolerance in people?

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Interestingly, people with a certain hair color seem to feel more pain than other people and to have a lower pain tolerance. Pain tolerance is something that varies greatly from one individual to another with some people able to withstand much more pain than others. Scientists have long wondered what factors be influence our individual levels of pain tolerance.

When we experience pain it is because signals are sent to the brain where they are interpreted giving the message that something is wrong (https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/features/whats-your-pain-tolerance#1). Not being able to feel pain at all is a rare condition called congenital analgesia. It may seem that this would be a good thing but it is actually dangerous because pain is a warning that something is wrong; for instance, if a child does not feel pain, then they could burn themselves badly on a hot stove without realizing that they are hurting themselves. Burn injuries are actually common among children who have this condition.

Red hair and pain perception

Red hair color is linked to the mutation of a specific gene called the melanocortin-1 receptor gene (MC1R); what is interesting is that scientists have done studies in which people with red hair have needed more pain killer medication. Furthermore, scientists have actually found a link between this specific gene, MC1R, and pain perception (https://anesthesiology.pubs.asahq.org/article.aspx?articleid=1942394). Such studies are important in showing that genetics are often more complex than we realize, and there is a genetic basis underlying pain perception in people.

Pain management problems

Pain tolerance is important to be aware of, especially for individuals undergoing medical procedures. People choosing to have cosmetic surgeries done need some level of pain management, often during and after having a procedure done.

The effects of anesthesia can also be complicated, and people with red hair also often need more local anesthesia. Some studies do back up the claim that redheads have that anesthetics do not work as well in them. This is an interesting area that needs more research to really understand what is happening. The gene that influences the red hair color has been found to be expressed in parts of the nervous system and even in the pituitary gland of the brain, so it does play some role in how the nervous system works.

Anesthesia and pain management is complicated

How much anesthetic and pain management you need will also depend on what procedure you are having done. Fortunately, many cosmetic procedures today can be done with local instead of general anesthesia. Local anesthesia is better if it is possible since general anesthesia carries more risks of problems. If you are considering having work done whether it be dental work, a hair transplant, or some type of body contouring procedure like a tummy tuck, you should find out about the type of anesthesia to be used and type of pain management you will get. If you do have problems with pain it is smart to let your doctors know before getting any work done so that your pain can be managed properly.

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Anna Peel

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