Nerve pain, also referred to as neuralgia, can occur in people of any age. Signs and symptoms of nerve pain depend on which nerve is affected. Types of neuralgia include glossopharyngeal neuralgia, occipital neuralgia, trigeminal neuralgia and postherpetic neuralgia. The most common form of this condition is trigeminal neuralgia, which causes facial pain. Glossopharyngeal neuralgia causes pain in the back of the tongue, throat, tonsils and middle ear. Occipital neuralgia is a specific type of headache that generally causes pain on one side of the head. Postherpetic neuralgia is nerve pain affecting the skin.
Nerve pain is caused by medical conditions such as chronic renal insufficiency, diabetes, hereditary porphyria, multiple sclerosis and infections such as Lyme disease, syphilis and shingles. Nerve pain is also caused by structures pressing against the nerves due to irritation, swelling, injury or surgery.
Signs and Symptoms
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, glossopharyngeal pain is described as sharp and stabbing pulses of pain. Occipital neuralgia is experienced as throbbing, piercing or an electric-like-shock of pain that affects the back of the head, upper neck and behind the ears. Occipital neuralgia may also cause scalp tenderness and your eyes may be sensitive to light.
Trigeminal neuralgia pain is generally felt on one side of the jaw or face and is described as sporadic, extreme, burning, sudden, shock-like face pain. According to Mayoclinic.com, postherpetic neuralgia is felt in the area where the shingles outbreak occurred and is experienced as stabbing, sharp, burning, and deep aching pain. This condition may also cause headaches, numbness, itching and skin sensitivity to touch and temperature.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, glossopharyngeal nerve pain is triggered by drinking cold liquids, swallowing, coughing, sneezing, clearing throat, talking and touching the gums or inside the mouth. Occipital neuralgia usually begins in the neck and spreads upward.
Trigeminal pain is triggered by shaving, vibrations felt in the face, washing face, brushing teeth, makeup application, drinking, talking and eating. This condition is more common in people older than 50 years. According to Mayoclinic.com, about 50 percent of people older than 60 years will experience postherpetic neuralgia after their initial outbreak of shingles.
Your physician will begin to diagnose your nerve pain with a physical examination as well as blood tests to check your blood sugar level and kidney function. Depending on the areas affected by nerve pain, your physician may order additional tests such as a dental exam, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nerve conduction study with electromyography and a spinal tap. Diagnostic testing is performed to find the cause of the nerve pain since there aren’t any precise tests for nerve pain.
Treatment of nerve pain is aimed at controlling the cause and providing pain relief. Types of nerve pain treatment include medication, massage, rest, certain procedures and surgery. Medications used to control nerve pain may include anti-depressant medications, anti-seizure medications, skin creams containing capsaicin, anti-viral medications and over-the-counter or narcotic pain relievers. Surgery is performed to decrease nerve feeling and to remove or correct structures that press on the nerve. Motor cortex stimulation, which is an invasive procedure, is done when other nerve pain treatments are not successful.