Psychophysical study of the effects of topical application of menthol in healthy volunteers

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Cold hyperalgesia is a major clinical phenomenon, but validated experimental models are still lacking for humans. Topical menthol application has recently been proposed as a possible model for the study of cold pain. We characterized the psychophysical effects of 30% l-menthol in ethanol on glabrous skin in 39 healthy subjects, using a double-blind, randomized, crossover design, with ethanol as a control. Psychophysical testing included an assessment of pain thresholds and detection of mechanical, cold, and heat stimuli, and of the sensations induced by suprathreshold stimuli. Most subjects (90%) perceived a cooling sensation with menthol. Menthol decreased cold pain thresholds and enhanced pain responses to suprathreshold noxious cold stimuli, without affecting responses to other stimuli. Menthol therefore has selective effects on noxious cold processing. No subject displayed signs of skin irritation or redness. These data suggest that 30% menthol application may be a useful experimental model for studies of cold hyperalgesia in humans. The absence of local skin reactions also makes this test potentially suitable for use in patients.

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