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A Closer Look at Trigeminal Neuralgia

Everything you feel on your face passes through the trigeminal nerves, including touch, temperature, and pain. The lowest branch of nerve also controls chewing and swallowing motor functions. 

When one of the nerves is damaged, you may experience an intense electric shock of pain on one side of your face. Called trigeminal neuralgia, these short-lived bursts of pain often recur, and they’re severe enough that they can bring your day to a halt. 

Dr. Adam Lewis and the team at Jackson Neurosurgery Clinic specialize in treating trigeminal neuralgia. Call our clinic when trigeminal pain affects your life. To help you understand what’s happening, let’s take a closer look at trigeminal neuralgia. 

The trigeminal nerve pair

The nerve has three branches covering the upper, middle, and lower parts on each side of your face. These branches are: 

  • Ophthalmic: the upper portion of the nerve, around your eyes and into your forehead
  • Maxillary: covering the middle of your face, including cheeks, nostrils, and upper lip
  • Mandibular: including the lower lip and jaw

There are two types of trigeminal neuralgia. Type 1, or typical neuralgia, is the most common, characterized by short episodes of sharp and intense pain that lasts from a few seconds to several minutes. Flare-ups of type 1 neuralgia can continue for weeks or months before disappearing for an extended time, even a year or longer, before returning. 

Type 2 neuralgia is also called atypical neuralgia. The pain usually occurs as a more widespread dull ache. While it’s less common and less intense, it’s often harder to modulate the symptoms. 

Causes of trigeminal neuralgia

One of the more common causes of trigeminal neuralgia is disrupted nerve function due to contact between the nerve and an adjacent blood vessel. The pressure created by the blood vessel affects nerve function. 

Other causes include multiple sclerosis or other conditions that damage the myelin sheath protecting nerve tissue. Injuries from surgery, trauma, and stroke may also compromise the trigeminal nerve. Lesions and tumors can also create nerve pressure in rare cases. 

Triggering an episode

Stimulation of a compromised section of the trigeminal nerve can set off a neuralgia episode. A partial list of neuralgia triggers includes: 

  • A light breeze across your face
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Drinking and eating
  • Applying makeup
  • Washing your face
  • Shaving
  • Facial expressions like smiling   
  • Talking or other jaw movements
  • Touching your face

Women suffer from trigeminal neuralgia more often than men, and the condition affects those over 50 more frequently than younger people. It’s also more common to affect the right side of the face than on the left. Bilateral neuralgia can occur on both sides, but it’s rare. 

Treating neuralgia

Medications can reduce or block trigeminal neuralgia pain. Anticonvulsants and antispasmodics are typically the first drugs prescribed to control pain. Botulinum type A injections may help in cases where medications no longer benefit, but research for this treatment continues. There are several surgical approaches to trigeminal neuralgia treatment. 

Call or go online to book your consultation at our office in Flowood, Mississippi, and get your trigeminal condition diagnosis today. Once neuralgia is confirmed, Dr. Lewis works with you to determine the best treatment plan right for you.