A rare cranial nerve compression syndrome, glossopharyngeal neuralgia (GPN) is similar to trigeminal neuralgia in that pressure on a nerve causes severe pain. These intermittent episodes of pain tend to radiate out from the back throat toward the ear.
Sometimes not only the glossopharyngeal (9th cranial nerve) is compressed but also the adjacent vagal nerve (10th cranial nerve), a condition called vagoglossopharyngeal neuralgia. Occipital neuralgia, a condition affecting the greater or lesser occipital nerve, may also cause a zapping or stabbing pain, but the pain is located on the back or top of the head and may radiate toward the eye or eyebrow.
Glossopharyngeal Neuralgia Symptoms
With GPN, sporadic and excruciating pain generally begins in the back of the mouth and the throat, and shoots toward the ear. The sharp pains may affect areas along the path of the ninth cranial nerve:
tonsil or throat
back of the tongue
the inner ear
Since the tenth cranial nerve transports sensory information to and from the voice box, a deep neck pain could indicate damage to one of the vagus nerves.
Various everyday activities can trigger the intense pain:
chewing or eating
Atypical glossopharyngeal neuralgia presents nonconforming pain symptoms such as a blunted or burning ache in the same region.
How is Glossopharyngeal Neuralgia Diagnosed?
Causes of GPN can generally be categorized two ways:
Compression of the ninth and possibly tenth cranial nerve by a blood vessel.
Much less often, multiple sclerosis, an infection or a tumor places pressure on the nerve.
Along with learning your medical history and performing a physical, your neurospecialist may ask for other tests.
Any infections or disease (multiple sclerosis or diabetes) that can damage the myelin sheath (covering of the nerve) could also contribute to neuralgia. A blood test can show extreme glucose levels that could be harming the myelin sheath.
An MRI may show if a blood vessel is in contact with the glossopharyngeal nerve. CT (computer tomography) scans create a picture using cross-sectional images of your head and neck. A CT angiogram (x-ray taken using angiography) focuses on the blood or lymph vessels that could be contributing to your head or neck pain.
NSPC Treatments for Glossopharyngeal Neuralgia
GPN treatments can include medications and surgical procedures.
Anticonvulsant medicines may reduce or relieve the pain symptoms.
Microvascular Decompression Surgery (MVD) involves one of our premier neurosurgeons entering the skull behind the ear and lifting the offending blood vessel away from the impacted nerve thus relieving the pressure and removing the cause of the pain.
During Stereotactic Radiosurgery, one of our board-certified neurosurgeons who specializes in using the Gamma Knife machine pinpoints a radiation beam to injure part of the glossopharyngeal nerve root. This radiosurgery is less invasive than MVD, no incision is required and patients are often discharged the same day.
The expert neurospecialists at NSPC provide exemplary diagnosis and treatments for glossopharyngeal neuralgia. Located on Long Island and the New York area, our award-winning medical centers provide innovative approaches for your brain or spine condition.