Although painful, trigeminal neuralgia can be treated using a variety of non-invasive and surgical means. Some of these options can provide relief for years.
Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic condition that affects the trigeminal nerve. This nerve transmits sensations from your face to your brain. People with trigeminal neuralgia experience painful jolts along this nerve. These tremors can be caused by light, everyday stimulation, such as using a toothbrush.
Initially, trigeminal neuralgia episodes are typically brief and mild. As the disease progresses, attacks tend to become longer and more painful.
There are a variety of treatment options that can help manage this condition, including medications, injections, and surgery.
The primary treatment for trigeminal neuralgia is medication. Some are able to manage their condition with medication alone and never need to look for other treatment options. Medications that can treat trigeminal neuralgia include:
- Anticonvulsants: Antiseizure drugs can help stop pain signals being sent to your brain.
- Muscle relaxer: Muscle relaxant medications can help relieve tension and reduce nerve activity
If you are not responding well to medication or are no longer responding to medication, your doctor may recommend additional treatment options. This could include:
- Botox injection: Botox can relax facial muscles and reduce pain.
- Glycerin injection: During a glycerol injection, a needle is inserted into an opening in the base of your skull so that a small amount of glycerol can be injected into the spinal fluid that surrounds your trigeminal nerve. This damages the nerve and stops the pain.
- Microvascular Decompression: Microvascular decompression is a surgical procedure. During this procedure, the blood vessels that touch the root of the trigeminal nerve are relocated or completely removed. This can prevent nerve dysfunction and reduce pain.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery of the brain (Gamma Knife): This procedure uses radiation aimed at the root of the trigeminal nerve to damage the nerve and eliminate pain.
- Balloon Compression: With balloon compression, a needle is inserted through your face and into your trigeminal nerve. A catheter is then inserted and a pressurized balloon inflated at the other end. This damages the nerve and blocks pain signals.
- Radio Frequency Thermal Lesion: Radiofrequency thermal lesion destroys nerve fibers with electrical current. The current is introduced by inserting a hollow needle through your face and into your trigeminal nerve.
Many people have found relief from trigeminal neuralgia pain by using natural or complementary methods. These methods have not been studied as well, and there is currently no data to support their use as a reliable method for pain relief.
However, some people report excellent results. It is always a good idea to consult your doctor before looking into any natural or complementary treatments.
Popular natural treatments for trigeminal neuralgia include:
There are a variety of things that can trigger a painful trigeminal neuralgia episode. Avoiding these triggers can help you manage your condition and reduce pain. Not everyone with trigeminal neuralgia has the same triggers, but there are a handful of common triggers. These include:
- Wind that hits your face
- touch your face
- drink without a straw
- be in very dry air
- Wash your face in a specific way
- Contact with very hot liquids
- Contact with very cold liquids
- chew hard food
- Applying makeup
- Brush teeth
- Consumption of certain foods and beverages, particularly coffee, citrus fruits, and spicy foods
Of course, some of these triggers are much easier to avoid than others. You can wear a scarf to protect your face from the wind, but you can’t avoid brushing your teeth. However, you can remember to do the daily hygiene activities slowly and carefully.
Your doctor may be able to recommend a time of day that is best for you to take your medication so that you experience less pain with these activities.
Living with a chronic neurological disorder can be daunting, but you don’t have to face it alone. There are great resources you can turn to for help. You can check the following:
- The American Chronic Pain Association: The American Chronic Pain Association has support groups across the country and online where you can talk to people who understand what you are going through.
- The Face Pain Association: Find a peer mentor, join a support group, and more with the resources of the Facial Pain Association.
- Nerve Pain Support Facebook Group: This Facebook group is a great place to connect with other people with nerve pain to share stories, tips, and local resources.
- The US Pain Foundation: The US Pain Foundation has a library of resources you can use to learn more about your condition, learn about patient financial assistance programs, find medical care, and more.
Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain disorder that causes episodes of sharp nerve pain on one side of the face. Episodes come on suddenly and can be triggered by light, certain foods, and other everyday sensations.
The condition is treated with medications, including anticonvulsants and muscle relaxants. For some people, this is enough to treat trigeminal neuralgia. If this is not the case, injections to relieve pain and minimally invasive surgery to damage nerves and block pain are also treatment options.