The reason redheads are more sensitive to pain

Less than two percent of people on the planet have red hair, or at least have it naturally, and with the genes that cause those red tresses comes a difference in how pain is experienced compared to others (via UCI Health).

According to researchers, the hair color is caused by recessive genes from both parents. A redhead also inherits mutations in certain receptors that affect the production of melatonin. And what does that have to do with pain? According to PBS, “[These] receptors appear in the midbrain where pain perception is regulated, so there is evidence the gene also influences our response to injury and discomfort.” What makes it more complicated, according to pain management specialist Dr. Shalini Shah with UCI Health, is that “there is recent evidence that redheads are more tolerant to local anesthetics and more sensitive to opioids.” That means redheads are more tolerant to some kinds of pain and less to others.

Red hair is a red flag for doctors and dentists

PBS also reported that Louisville University researchers discovered redheads need 19 percent more inhaled, general anethesia than individuals with darker hair colors. And it’s also the potential reason for why many redheads are afraid of the dentist, since they need more topical anesthetics, according to The Journal of the American Dental Association.

The gene also is the reason that red-heads are often naturally very pale and have freckles, and with that, comes an increased risk of sunburn and skin cancer. Remember that less than two percent amount of natural redheads, but they make up 16 percent of melanoma patients (via Scimex).

And while redheads easily detect changes in hot and cold temperatures, they may be less sensitive to electric shock, needle pricks, and stinging pain on the skin (via UCI Health). McGill University behavioral neuroscientist Jeffrey Mogil talked with PBS about the seeming contradiction. “You hear when people talk about it, half the time they’re saying my story and half the time they’re saying the other story. I know it’s frustrating to redheads, who would like to know whether they are more or less sensitive [to pain], and that’s still unclear.”

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