Neuralgia affects thousands of people, most of them older. The pain of neuralgia is caused by inflammation or compression of nerves and can be the result of anything from stress to a pinched nerve to a residual effect of an illness. Although the treatment of neuralgia can sometimes be as simple as changing your diet, you should really start with a visit to your neurologist or family doctor. Always get a complete diagnosis, since certain types of neuralgias, left untreated, can lead to intense pain and more serious conditions.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
Deal with any underlying cause or condition. Neuralgia is often present with infections, such as tooth decay, and nasal infections or following a viral illness such as shingles. What appears to be a migraine or sinus headache may be neuralgia. Neuralgia may be the result of an injury or stress. Diabetes may trigger trigeminal neuralgia. All of these situations require attention before any treatment can be successful for the neuralgia itself.
Determine what kind of neuralgia you have. The most common, trigeminal neuralgia, is caused by the inflammation of one of the two nerves that split into three segments on either side of the face. It is often aggravated by hot or cold air or water, touch or simply washing or shaving. Postherpetic neuralgia follows an episode of shingles resulting from the measles virus. Occipital neuralgia occurs around the base of the skull and results from a pinched occipital nerve. Glossopharyngeal neuralgia affects the back of tongue or throat back to the ears and can be triggered by something as simple as chewing or swallowing. The pain associated with these facial neuralgias is sharp, shooting, burning or tingling. It may be dull or excruciating. Begin your treatment by getting to your doctor, who may order a CAT scan or MRI to eliminate other conditions such as tumours or aneurysms and to pinpoint any compression points on nerves.
Learn about your neuralgia. Use one of the reference web sites below or search using "neuralgia" or the specific type of neuralgia that bothers you. Trigeminal Neuralgia is also called "tic douloureux" (meaning "painful twitch"). You can also find information using the location of the neuralgia -- cranial, facial or Atypical Facial Pain (ATFP), a general term for a number of types of facial neuralgia. Ask your health professional or find information on your own about what triggers episodes of your neuralgia. and what alternatives are available.
Avoid triggers for neuralgia episodes. Seek treatment as soon as possible for virus infections like shingles to minimise the chance of developing postherpetic neuralgia. Avoid triggers for glossopharyngeal or trigeminal neuralgia (strong chewing, cold wind, toothbrushing). Sit up straight and lie down flat to avoid twisting or bending your neck for extended periods. Correct any dietary deficiencies that your doctor or nutritionist points out.
Follow your doctor's orders for medication. Anti-seizure and antidepressant drugs are often used to suppress pain with cranio-facial neuralgia. Electrical stimulation is effective in some types of neuralgia and pain relievers or a drug called capsacin are often used for postherpetic neuralgia. Where relief is not found for trigeminal neuralgia, surgery can be performed to deaden or remove the trigeminal nerve. Follow all directions for medication and never stop taking an anti-seizure or antidepressant medication suddenly or without consulting your doctor.
Investigate alternative or homeopathic treatments. Acupunture, Vitamin B-complex and some herbal remedies have all been used, with some success stories, to relieve the pain associated with neuralgia. When trying alternative, holistic or herbal medical treatments, inform your doctor. You may not only avoid any conflicts with the treatment she has ordered but she may be able to identify a hoax and save you the money.
Tips and warnings
- Always Insist on trying the least invasive medical options for treatment first--surgery is not reliably successful.
- The one thing that will convince you to seek medical help for a neuralgia is the pain. Never accept a health professional's inability to "find anything wrong" or prescribe strong pain relievers for this condition. Contact a competent neurologist who knows what to look for and what to do about it.
- Beware that the descendants of the old-time "snake oil salesmen" are alive and practicing medicine without a license on the web. Stick to reliable information offered by professional organisations or medical schools.
- Anyone who promises to "cure" a neuralgia is lying. Since the way neuralgia works is only generally understood, the best you can expect is to be able to minimise pain and manage your condition.
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