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What is neuralgia?

Neuralgia is a stabbing, burning or severe type of pain that is caused by a damaged nerve. Although neuralgia can happen anywhere in the body, it most commonly affects the face and neck. Neuralgia pain can be intense and even debilitating. Neuralgia is sometimes caused by a disease, such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis, or from a condition like shingles.


There are different types of neuralgia that can happen in different parts of your body.

Occipital neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia occurs when there is damage to the occipital nerves, located on the side of the head. Causes of occipital neuralgia may be trauma (such as a head injury), physical stress on the nerve, repetitious neck contraction, flexion or extension or a result of a medical complication. Symptoms include:

  • Chronic headache located in the back of the head and around or over the top of the head
  • Aching, burning and throbbing pain that typically starts at the base of the head and radiates to the scalp
  • Pain behind the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tender scalp
  • Pain when moving the neck

Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)

A complication of shingles, this is a painful condition that affects your nerve fibers and skin. The burning pain associated with post-herpetic neuralgia can make it difficult to sleep and eat. Caused by the chickenpox virus, shingles clears up within a few weeks. However, PHN can last for months or years after the shingles rash and blisters have disappeared. Symptoms of PHN typically occur in the same area where the shingles outbreak first occurred. These symptoms include:

  • Burning sharp, jabbing deep or aching pain
  • Sensitivity to light touch, even the touch of clothing
  • Itching and numbness (a less common symptom)
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis (in rare cases)

Supraorbital neuralgia

When you have supraorbital neuralgia, you may feel sharp, shooting or tingling pain in your face. The pain can be severe and even disabling. Supraorbital neuralgia is caused by irritation to the supraorbital nerve (SON), a branch of the trigeminal nerve, the main nerve that provides sensation from the forehead into the scalp line. Causes of supraorbital neuralgia include trauma, plastic surgery, shingles or other viral infections.

Infraorbital neuralgia

Facial pain caused by infraorbital neuralgia can be uncomfortable, and even disabling. The infraorbital nerve (ION) is a branch of the trigeminal nerve that provides sensation to facial skin. The infraorbital nerve supplies sensory innervations to the mid face, from the cheek to the nose. Causes of infraorbital neuralgia (nerve pain) include trauma, plastic surgery, shingles or other viral infections that lead to nerve irritations. Symptoms of infraorbital neuralgia include sharp, shooting and tingling pain. Areas of the face may become very sensitive to touch.

Glossopharyngeal neuralgia

Glossopharyngeal neuralgia is a pain syndrome that causes sharp, stabbing pain in the back of the throat, tongue, tonsils and middle ear. The pain can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. The pain can happen multiple times per day or as infrequently as once every few weeks. Glossopharyngeal neuralgia attacks of pain sometimes happen after swallowing, drinking cold liquids, sneezing, coughing, talking, clearing the throat or touching the gums. One cause of the condition is the compression of the glossopharyngeal nerve. Sometimes, it is associated with multiple sclerosis. It typically affects the elderly. Glossopharyngeal neuralgia pain is treated first with medication. Surgery is an option if medication doesn’t effectively reduce the pain.

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