Trigeminal or Facial Nerve Pain
The trigeminal nerve is the fifth and largest cranial nerve; it contains both sensory and motor fibers. It is also called the facial nerve as it is the sensory nerve to most of the head area as well as the motor nerve to several muscles including the muscles of mastication or chewing and the muscles of facial expression. The trigeminal nerve has three branches and also supplies the submandibular and sublingual salivary glands and the nasal and palatine glands as well as taste buds and two-thirds of the tongue. It is also the nerve for the sensations of pain, temperature, touch and pressure from the skin of the face and mucous membranes lining the nose and mouth. Classic trigeminal nerve pain can interfere with the normal functioning of this nerve.
Causes and Symptoms of Facial Nerve Pain
Trigeminal neuralgia or nerve pain is a disorder of recurring pain on one area of the face due to a disorder or malfunction involving one or more branches of this nerve. It can affect adults of any age, though it is more common in older individuals especially over the age of 50 years. Women are also much more likely to suffer from classic trigeminal nerve pain than men. Symptoms include excessive contracting of facial muscles and wincing from pain resulting in the classic tic symptom.
The cause may be unknown or due to pressure from a tumor or blood vessel on the nerve or multiple sclerosis. Symptoms include durations of severe, piercing pain with the sensation of tearing or cutting, which can last from several seconds to minutes. Common areas of pain from trigeminal nerve malfunctions include the lips, gums, cheek, chin and sometimes the forehead. The pain may be spontaneous or triggered by touching and even smiling or talking. The pain may range from uncomfortable and startling to incapacitating pain which may lead to severe depression and prevent proper eating and sleeping.
Though classic trigeminal nerve pain is not life-threatening, it is important to treat trigeminal nerve pain as soon as possible. Treatment by over the counter medications is usually not helpful because the cause is nerve pain. Medications that that may be helpful in some individuals include antidepressants medications, anti-spastic medications and antiseizure medications. If the cause of trigeminal pain is compression from a tumor or artery, surgery to move the artery or remove the tumor may be required. The affected nerve sensitivity can also be decreased or destroyed by drug injections or radiofrequency. However, these approaches are only used in severe cases and as a last resort as they may cause unwanted side effects.