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What Is Hypoesthesia?

By Synthia L. Rose
Updated: May 17, 2024

Hypoesthesia is a type of sensory dysfunction characterized by an absence or reduction in sensation. Sometimes accompanied by nerve damage, this loss of sensation can occur in any part of the body, usually after an injury, medical operation or an illness such as diabetes. It is also common with people who have physical disabilities.

Sufferers of hypoesthesia feel no stimuli, whether thermal, mechanical or electrical; they are also not sensitive to vibrations. More than just a physical condition, hypoesthesia can also be a psychological one where the loss of feeling is partially linked to a person’s perception of feeling and pain. The condition, which is often accompanied by a loss of strength, may or may not be permanent.

For those who retain some sensation with hypoesthesia, there are varying intensities of physical feeling and pain. A patient may be able to experience certain types of stimuli but be completely insensate to other types. As an example, some people who lose feeling can feel coldness but not warmth.

One type of injury during which hypoesthesia may occur is whiplash. In such cases, the loss of feeling may occur immediately or arise over five or six months after the injury. Sensation is often restored during the body’s recovery phase.

Those with diabetes run a high risk of acquiring hypoesthesia because diabetes is linked to peripheral nerve disorders. Some studies suggest that nearly 60 percent of patients who have both diabetes and hypoesthesia have the nerve disorder known as distal symmetric polyneuropathy (DSP), which is characterized by numbness or tingling in the arms, hands, legs, and feet. Aside from the limbs, diabetics can also develop corneal hypoesthesia, which affects the eyes. Often, loss of sensation precedes actual polyneuropathy in diabetics and is seen as a warning that nerve damage is imminent.

Corneal hypoesthesia is not limited to diabetics. Others likely to develop this localized loss of ocular feeling include those with herpes simplex keratitis and those who have introduced toxins into the eye via chemical exposure or medical drugs. Some patients with recent laser eye surgeries and those with climatic droplet keratopathy (CDK) may also develop the condition.

People who have had limbs amputated often suffer from loss of sensation in the flesh adjacent to where the removed limb used to be. Those who undergo facelifts that include the lifting and pulling of the scalp to smooth the forehead or enhance the eyebrows may acquire scalp hypoesthesia. Loss of sensation linked to facelifts is generally temporary and only affects areas immediately near or behind the surgical incisions.

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