Peripheral neuropathy, a condition characterized by damage to the nerves in the hands, arms, legs, and feet, can cause uncomfortable and painful symptoms, including burning, tingling, and numbness. But there is much more to it than a bit of discomfort. It can affect your ability to do the things you enjoy and interfere with everyday activities. If you or a loved one struggles with neuropathic pain, here are some things to consider.
First and foremost, you should be aware of the risk of more physical damage that you might not be able to see. Pain is typically your body’s early warning system. The pain prompts you to make a change, like pulling your hand back from a hot stove or warns you that you stubbed your toe and may fall. Whether your brain gets corrupted signals from too much sensation or no warning because your extremities are numb, you are at risk of injury. You may injure yourself and not know it or react too slowly to prevent serious harm.
Falls: One of the more serious but common dangers is the risk of falling. Foot numbness can slow your reaction time when you trip or cause a loss of balance. Falls are hazardous for people with osteoporosis, who could more easily break a hip or other bones. It could also lead to a severe head injury. Depending on the type of injury, it may be impossible to call an ambulance, cause debilitating shock, or even death.
You can mitigate the danger with the following tips:
- Remove trip hazards like throw rugs and furniture that stick out into the walkway.
- Secure the edges of any permanent flooring, such as carpet.
- Install railings in the shower.
- Try a walk-in tub rather than a tub or shower with a raised edge.
- Sit, stand, or change directions slowly.
- Hold tight to railings or use a lift when going up or down stairs.
- Use a walker to help you maintain your balance.
- Concentrate on balance and stabilization exercises.
- Stay active and mobile.
Burns: It is easy to get burned using the stove or oven. People with neuropathy may not feel the burn, so don’t jerk their hands away as quickly. It is important to pay close attention when working around hot surfaces. If you are injured, practice these basic first aid principles.
- Take Immediate Action To Limit Damage: Run the burn under cold water, but don’t use ice or ice water which may damage tissue further.
- Treat Small Blisters: Keep them covered and clean. Do not pop them, if possible. The blister protects the damaged layers of skin beneath and prevents infection. Use burn cream for pain.
- Severe Burns and Blisters: Go to the Emergency Room. The doctor will give you further instructions after assessing the damage.
Cuts: Cuts pose another threat in the kitchen or while using garden or woodworking tools. Keep minor cuts clean and dry, and use antibiotic ointment to prevent infection. If the cut is large, take steps to stop the bleeding and go to the ER for evaluation.
Foot Damage: A common problem, especially among people with diabetic neuropathy, is foot damage caused by ill-fitting shoes or untreated, minor wounds. Blisters or cuts may seem small, but untreated foot wounds can lead to staph infections, blood poisoning, amputation, and even death. Check your feet daily and treat all injuries by keeping them clean, dry, and covered. If the injury site feels hot, the red area grows rather than diminishes with time, or if you start feeling sick, go to the ER.
Beyond the physical dangers, neuropathy may lead to significant lifestyle adjustments by limiting the ability to continue your typical level of activity with day-to-day tasks such as:
Driving– Loss of sensation in the legs and feet could make driving hazardous if you can’t feel the pedals. In the beginning, this will simply cause you some inconvenience. Long-term neuropathy may mean a loss of independence which can be very frustrating.
Sleep– Hypersensitivity, buzzing sensations, or pain caused by nerve damage can make it difficult to sleep. Some people struggle to sleep because the sheets or blankets bother their feet too much or their legs and feet are too restless. This not only impacts your energy levels, but also your mentality.
Mood– Life-altering changes, continued pain, and a lack of independence can be highly discouraging and may lead to depression or anxiety that you are becoming a burden to those around you.
Work– Those with severe symptoms may find it challenging to continue working. Muscle weakness makes manual labor impossible, while pain and numbness in the hands can make it tough to type or do other tasks requiring finger or hand dexterity.
Finances– An inability to work or increased medical costs may strain finances, adding additional stress and worry to your life.
What Can Be Done?
While these symptoms may be discouraging, they don’t have to be debilitating. Neuropathy patients can manage their symptoms and sometimes reverse the damage depending on the underlying cause and recommended treatment.
Lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise can also make a difference, as some foods worsen neuropathy symptoms, and maintaining healthy activity levels helps improve muscle strength and cardiovascular health. Certain supplements are known to lessen pain and encourage nerve regrowth, and could be recommended by your treatment team.
Depending on the cause and severity of your neuropathy, there may be ways to reduce the symptoms and help the nerves to heal. Take precautions to avoid injury and accidents while you explore options for addressing your neuropathy symptoms.
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to texts, graphics, images, and other material contained in this article, are for informational purposes only. None of the material mentioned is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment before undertaking a new care regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.