How is pain determained?

Yesterday I had to have a root canal. My tooth was infected and it was extremely painful. While on the way to the dentist I had a slight asthma attack. Well I whipped out my trusty inhaler and in about 2 minutes that was gone.

Now here’s the question. As soon as I noticed I was having trouble breathing my tooth pain literally disapeared. It didn’t bother me a bit. Once I inhaled the medicine and could breathe better; for about 10 minutes I was pain free and could breathe fine.

Then 10 minutes later the tooth pain was back feeling even worse.

Question is how is pain defined? Is their a heirarchy? If you can’t breathe the body stops the pain and allows you to consentrate on breathing, which is far more important?

From Merriem-Webster Dictionary:

<font face=“Courier New”>pain [1] (noun)

[Middle English, from Old French peine, from Latin poena, from Greek poine payment, penalty; akin to Greek tinein to pay, tinesthai to punish, Avestan kaena revenge, Sanskrit cayate he revenges]

First appeared 14th Century


2 a : usu. localized physical suffering associated with bodily disorder (as a disease or an injury); also : a basic bodily sensation induced by a noxious stimulus, received by naked nerve endings, characterized by physical discomfort (as pricking, throbbing, or aching), and typically leading to evasive action

b : acute mental or emotional distress or suffering : GRIEF

3 plural : the throes of childbirth

4 plural : trouble, care, or effort taken for the accomplishment of something >was at ~s to reassure us<

5 : one that irks or annoys or is otherwise troublesome – often used in such phrases as pain in the neck

– pain*less (adjective)

– painlessly (adverb)

– painlessness (noun)

– on pain of or under pain of

 : subject to penalty or punishment of &gt;ordered not to leave the country on pain of death&lt;&lt;/font&gt;

I think the definition in bold answers your question.

The more beautiful the rose, the more thorns it hides underneath. - Louie
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Aren’t people with dictionaries a pain though? :wink:

From what you say, I take it recall (?) not having pain from the time you noticed a problem in breathing, not from the time you administered your inhaler – so that we can assume the inhaler did not wipe out the pain.

I know nothing about such a circumstance and don’t have any asthma problem. I think you could look at the situation several ways.

  1. Maybe you didn’t notice the breathing problem until your brain was already affected by lack of oxygen. Perhaps your brain, in that condition, wouldn’t sense pain of the level or sort that your tooth caused. I would tend to be suspicious of this scenario though.

  2. Maybe, when you sensed the breathing problem, you attention simply disconnected from the pain problem until after you used your inhaler for your asthmatic onset. Then, maybe before your attention could return to the pain, the inhaler chemical (I don’t know what’s in an inhaler for asthma.) caused some general-anesthetic effect, which lasted for the rest of the 10 min you mention, causing your brain not to sense pain for that period. Stuff absorbed by the nasal membranes can reach the brain pretty fast.

  3. Maybe, after your attention to your breathing problem, it just took ten minutes for you attention to return to your toothache. Sometimes pains that really aren’t all that strong tend to take one over if they last for quite a while, but any interruption might reset one’s evaluation of the intensity of a pain, to a more realistic level, until time (nagging) raised such evaluation agai – in this case, 10 min.

The above is all just speculation. Maybe we could find a lab, though, that would repeat the experiment with electrodes to sense whether any pain signal (objective) was leaving the area of your bad tooth during the 10 min. You would be interested in suffering in the interest of science, wouldn’t you?

Ray (Pain (subjective) is defined in the mind/brain of the beholder.)