Sensory Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy May Be to Blame for Odd Sensations
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy come in all different types. Most typically, the symptoms you experience will depend on what type of nerve is impacted. Sensory symptoms of peripheral neuropathy usually impact our sense of touch, and more.
Your nervous system has an incredibly wide range of responsibilities. It’s not an overstatement to say that your nervous system is in charge of literally everything your body does and experiences. So when part of it gets damaged, there are any number of different ways the consequences might manifest themselves.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are typically determined by what type of nerve is being targeted. There are three main types of nerves in your body — sensory, motor, and autonomic. They’re in charge of three different bodily functions, each one being relatively self-explanatory.
Your sensory nerves are in charge of relaying sensory information from your body extremities to your brain and spine. The motor nerves are in charge of sending signals out from the brain and spine, telling your body when to contract its muscles and move around. And your autonomic nerves are basically in charge of everything else that your body does without your permission. Things like your heart rate, blood pressure, gastrointestinal muscles, and other bodily functions that you don’t consciously think about are the domain of your autonomic nerves.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are going to present themselves differently depending on which type of nerve is being impacted. Similarly, thick nerve fibers and thin nerve fibers sometimes display different symptoms as well.
Sensory Symptoms: Positive Feedback vs. Negative Feedback
Damage to sensory nerves, understandably enough, leads to what are called sensory symptoms. They’re among the most common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, and they also tend to be the first symptoms to present themselves. For the most part, your sensory nerves are among the thinnest nerves in your body, so they have a tendency to be much more vulnerable to damage.
Your sensory nerves also come with the most directly bothersome consequences when they do become damaged. For the sake of simplicity, sensory neuropathy symptoms tend to get grouped into two main categories. Each one depends upon the thickness of the nerve being damaged, as differently-sized nerve fibers respond to the damage of peripheral neuropathy in different ways.
Positive Symptoms: When Nerves Go Berserk
Smaller sensory nerve fibers will exhibit what is known as positive sensory symptoms. This essentially means that your body is providing you with an active response to the damage that is afflicting your nerve endings. When smaller nerve fibers degenerate, they respond by overacting and firing off in ways that they’re not supposed to.
This can cause a wide range of sensations.
Sometimes misfiring nerves respond entirely too much to what might be a relatively normal amount of stimulation (socks and shoes, bedsheets, and so forth). Other times, positive sensory systems can involve your nerves responding when there isn’t actually any stimulation at all, firing off for no reason whatsoever.
Negative Symptoms: Nervous (System) Breakdown
Your larger sensory nerve fibers actually respond to the damage inflicted by peripheral neuropathy in a vastly different way from their thinner counterparts. Instead of over-reacting and firing off when they shouldn’t be, large nerve fibers tend to respond to damage by simply shutting down altogether.
Your large fibers tend just have an “I’ll take my toys and go home, then!” attitude when it comes to nerve damage, so they are more likely to display what are known as negative symptoms. This means that your sensory nerves are either reporting less information than they should be…or reporting any information at all.
Both are quite dangerous, and we’ll talk about why.
Negative sensory neuropathy symptoms, when they take their most severe form, will show up as a condition known as anaesthesia. You probably know this word already, and it’s not too different here from how it’s normally used in a medical context. Anaesthesia refers to a complete lack of feeling, meaning that your nerves aren’t reporting any information back to your central nervous system.
This can be dangerous for a number of different ways, mostly because your sensory nerves are your body’s “warning light.” When something is wrong with it, you can wind up missing important messages your body is trying to send you. A cut on your foot, for example, can go unnoticed and lead to infection…or worse, to amputation. This isn’t alarmist, either — it’s a real risk when peripheral neuropathy is in play, which is why it’s recommended to take safety considerations.
Your small nerve fibers respond to peripheral neuropathy in what we’ll call a much more active way than the large nerve fibers do. Their positive symptom response pattern means they like to send you a bunch of information that isn’t really meant to be sent in the first place, and the results can be pretty irritating.
Specifically, paresthesia refers to what is also known as phantom sensations — feelings aren’t actually caused by any real stimulation or input. This can take many forms. The most common are buzzing, pins and needles, tingling, strange vibrations, and other bizarre feelings.
While the pain caused by paresthesia is not always debilitatingly high, it can impact people’s lives in serious ways — mostly by interrupting sleep patterns and causing anxiety through constant irritation.
Finally, dysesthesia describes another common symptom of sensory neuropathy in which your nerves are overreacting to what would normally be a completely acceptable level of stimulation.
Individuals with peripheral neuropathy often wind up having to make special considerations in their lives for symptoms related to dysesthesia, as your overactive nerves can turn even everyday activities into painful torture sessions. Socks and shoes can become unbearably painful, and the feeling of bedsheets on toes can become thunderously irritating.
Don’t Wait. Investigate.
The sensory symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are not as serious or debilitating as other nerve damage types, but can still be troubling, distracting, and irritating. Your sensory nerves can be impacted in either direction, meaning they can over-act or under-act, depending on how they’re actually taking damage. Either condition is pretty dangerous, as your senses of feeling and pain are basically your body’s built-in warning system, in more ways than just one.
Perhaps one of the most problematic aspects of peripheral neuropathy is that its symptoms can be easily mistaken for something else. That rogue vibration in your foot might be just as easily ignored…right up until the point where it becomes too painful to ignore. If you think you might be experiencing sensory nerve damage, it is time to make some lifestyle changes before it’s too late. The earlier you catch it, the easier it is to reverse.