According to several studies or medical articles, red-haired people have a different and personal sensitivity to pain. In addition, they would also need higher dose anesthesia. But where does this curious difference come from?
Jealous for their flamboyant hair or mocked in childhood for their rarity, redheads do indeed share a difference that you would not suspect: they react differently to pain and anesthesia, according to a scientific article published last June .
More or less sensitive depending on the type of pain
Calculating the pain felt is not a simple thing: there is not one type of pain but several, and different thresholds for each of us. But according to the American university health center UCI Health, redheads have a particular sensitivity to certain specific pains.
According to the facts established by various studies, for example, red-haired women are more sensitive to temperature-related pain but are nevertheless resistant to the beneficial effects of lidocaine, a skin anesthetic. Other research suggests that these populations are less sensitive to the pain inflicted by an electric shock or needle prick.
A greater need for anesthesia
Another surprising fact according to several findings made by anesthesiologists, red-haired people generally need 20% more anesthesia than the rest of the population to remain under sedation or even need more local anesthesia to no longer feel pain. .
On the other hand, they would be more sensitive to pain treatments based on opioids, morphine or fentanyl.
A genetic explanation for this difference
But where does this different perception come from? The explanation could be found in genetics, as explained by UCI Health.
“Both parents must pass on a recessive genetic trait for their child to have red hair. They inherit mutations in the melanocortin 1 receptor, or MC1R, on chromosome 16. MC1R is responsible for producing the skin pigment melanin, which red-headed people cannot produce due to the mutation. This same gene is responsible not only for hair and skin color, but also for midbrain function that determines the response to pain.”
Another, complementary explanation would be that the brains of redheads process pain differently, which would confirm that anesthesia and analgesia, both governed by the nervous system, would also be different.
Particularities which would benefit from being better known: if only 1 to 2% of the world population is red-haired, their differences should be taken into account in the case of medical treatments: anesthesia must therefore be better monitored, just like sensitivity to opioids. The objective would be to adapt the proposed doses so that they are effective and not dangerous.