Previous studies have found that people with red hair are typically more sensitive to pain and more resistant to anesthesia --- and require about 20 percent more of it to be effective.Red hair is usually caused by a mutation in a gene called MC1R, which produces the substance that gives hair, skin and eyes their color. Some studies have indicated that this mutation may also affect the way pain is felt.
Only about 1 percent to 2 percent of the world's population has red hair, which is caused by a mutation in MC1R, a protein involved in regulating skin and hair color.
The color of your hair is determined by a protein called melanin. There are two kinds of melanin: eumelanin colors your hair brown to black, and pheomelanin turns it yellow-blond to red. The levels of each of these two kinds of melanin will determine the color and shade of your hair.
Red hair is also associated with fair skin, freckles and sensitivity to ultraviolet light, and occurs more frequently in northern and western Europeans and their descendants.
You've likely heard one of the most common stereotypes given to redheads, which is a tendency to have a "fiery" personality. While this has no basis in science that I know of, there are some studies that show redheads may, in fact, have a different tolerance to pain than the rest of us.
Although how that tolerance differs is still being debated.
Do Redheads Have More or Less Tolerance to Pain?
The latest study on pain and red hair, published by the Journal of the American Dental Association, found that redheads are more than twice as likely to avoid going to the dentist than people with blonde or brunette locks. The researchers suggested this increased anxiety was due to redheads' increased sensitivity to pain.
Other studies, too, have found such a link, including research by Edwin Liem, who conducted the research at the Outcomes Research Institute of the University of Louisville, US.
Liem found that people with red hair are so sensitive to pain they require 20 percent more anesthetic to dull pain. He said in New Scientist:
"Red hair is the first visible human trait, or phenotype, that is linked to anaesthetic requirement."
Liem reasoned that a dysfunctional melanocortin 1 receptor, found in redheads, stimulates a brain receptor related to pain sensitivity.
The issue is not black and white, however, as other studies have found quite the opposite.
Research by Canadian researcher Jeffery Mogil found that those with red hair actually have a higher tolerance for pain … and need less anesthesia during surgery. Ian Jackson, head of medical and developmental genetics at the Medical Research Council in Edinburgh, meanwhile, has conducted studies on mice showing that male redheads have a similar pain tolerance to non-redheads.
It could very well be that pain tolerance differs from person to person among redheads, just as it does among people with any hair color. But it is always interesting to hear your personal experiences.
If you or someone in your family has red hair, please share your experiences in the Community Comments section below.
Do you find you are more or less sensitive to pain than others, or have you required extra anesthetic during dental visits?
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