According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, approximately 15,000 Americans are diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia every year. This chronic condition causes recurring episodes of facial pain that are so intense, they have been compared to electric shocks to the face. Even an action as mild as brushing one’s teeth or applying makeup can trigger an episode of trigeminal neuralgia. Without proper intervention from experts like the doctors at the Headache & TMJ Center of New Jersey, the attacks can become longer and more frequent over time.
Causes and Symptoms of Trigeminal Neuralgia
Trigeminal neuralgia occurs when there is a malfunction of the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for carrying sensation from the face to the brain. The trigeminal nerve consists of a root near the base of the brain that splits into three branches. The ophthalmic branch controls feeling in the eyes and upper eyelids; the maxillary branch controls feeling in the lower eyelids, cheeks, nostrils, upper lip and gums; and the mandibular branch controls feeling in the lower lip, gums, chewing muscles and jaw.
An attack of trigeminal neuralgia happens when an artery or vein rubs against the trigeminal nerve. Other causes include multiple sclerosis and tumors.
Flare-ups can occur due to the following triggers:
- Brushing or flossing the teeth
- Shaving the face
- Touching the face
- Applying makeup
- A cool breeze passing over the face
Trigeminal neuralgia usually affects only one side of the face. The exact location of the pain depends on which part of the trigeminal nerve is affected. The pain is often described as sharp or stabbing, and less commonly characterized as a dull ache. The condition is more common in women than men, and in individuals over the age of 50.
Treatment Options for Trigeminal Neuralgia
If you are diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, you are not destined to a lifetime of excruciating pain. Our team of doctors will work with you to find a solution to reduce the frequency and severity of your pain episodes.
The first line of defense against trigeminal neuralgia is often medication. Anticonvulsants can prevent the nerves from reacting to triggers. Muscle relaxers are also helpful. If medication fails to control the pain, nerve block injections can be administered directly to the face.
If medication and injections do not provide adequate pain relief, surgery is another option. There are a few different surgical approaches for trigeminal neuralgia treatment. Rhizotomy stifles the pain fibers of the trigeminal nerve using an electric current or chemical. Microvascular decompression surgery, used in cases where blood vessel compression irritates the trigeminal nerve, cushions the vessel from the nerve to relieve the compression. Stereotactic radiosurgery utilizes radiation to permanently damage the trigeminal root nerve.
Some patients suffering from trigeminal neuralgia opt to control pain through alternative therapies such as acupuncture, yoga or meditation. These therapies are generally not as well-studied as medical or surgical treatment.
Coping with a trigeminal neuralgia diagnosis can be difficult, but the doctors at the Headache & TMJ Center of New Jersey are here to help. We will review your case, note your symptoms and their severity, and recommend the best way to achieve relief from the ongoing pain. Call or email us today to request an appointment with our doctors.