Neuralgia is a sharp, stabbing severe pain felt along the path of an irritated or damaged nerve. Pain may occur anywhere in the body, but is most common in the neck and face. The pain may be triggered by nerve compression or injury, old age or an underlying disease such as diabetes, herpes zoster infection, HIV, syphilis and chronic renal insufficiency. It may also result due to chemical irritation, certain medications or surgery.
Neuralgia affects the overall quality of life as the pain may be long lasting and debilitating. The different types of neuralgia are:
- Postherpetic neuralgia may occur anywhere in your body due to shingles (viral infection accompanied by painful rashes and blisters).
- Trigeminal neuralgia occurs when blood vessels press against the trigeminal nerve (passes through the face). It usually affects one side of the face and is most commonly seen in the elderly.
- Glossopharyngeal neuralgia is a rare type of neuralgia which affects the glossopharyngeal nerve in the throat, and is characterized by pain in the neck and throat.
Apart from pain, neuralgia may also be associated with increased sensitivity (with even a touch), paralysis of muscles and weakness.
When you experience symptoms of neuralgia, your doctor will review your history, examine you and order blood tests to check for infection, MRI, ultrasound, spinal tap (examination of cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord) or electromyography (measures nerve conduction). A dental examination may be required to rule out other causes of facial pain.
The treatment of neuralgia focuses on treating the underlying causes. Your doctor may prescribe analgesics, anti-seizure, antidepressant and anticonvulsant medications for pain. A nerve block injection (reduces inflammation and turns off pain signals) may be administered in cases of severe pain. Physical exercise might help you in alleviating pain and increasing movement. You will be advised to keep your blood sugar levels under control if you are diabetic. Rarely, a surgery might be required to relieve the pressure of impeding structures such as blood vessels, tumors, bones and ligaments off the nerves.