There’s one thing that all patients with trigeminal neuralgia have in common: pain. Sadly, the pain can be so intense that the condition was historically referred to as the “suicide disease.”
However, thanks to dedicated clinicians and researchers, doctors now understand the underlying cause and have developed methods to treat trigeminal neuralgia.
You may already have a trigeminal neuralgia procedure scheduled, or you could simply be looking for ways to relieve the pain. The following information will help you manage your symptoms at home, without surgery. However, it’s important to understand that these methods are only palliative and don’t present a solution to the underlying cause.
Understanding Trigeminal Neuralgia
Before discussing how to relieve trigeminal neuralgia pain, it might be helpful to understand more about the condition itself. As you’re well aware, trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition characterized by pain in response to things that shouldn’t hurt. This includes things like speaking and wind on your face. Pain often occurs in cycles, with bouts of hypersensitivity alternating with a quiescent, painless period.
As mentioned previously, doctors now understand the underlying cause of most cases of trigeminal neuralgia. The trigeminal nerve is the fifth cranial nerve, which transmits sensory information from the mouth and face to the brain. The cranial nerves are paired, which means you have one on the right and left side. This is why the pain only occurs on one side of the face. The most common culprit is an abnormal blood vessel at the base of the brain that impinges on the trigeminal nerve. This causes it to be hyperstimulated and essentially misfire, sending pain signals when it shouldn’t.
Unfortunately, there are no diagnostic tests (like x-rays or bloodwork) to diagnose trigeminal neuralgia. Instead, your doctor will consider your symptoms and rule out other conditions. Symptoms typically include:
- Excruciating pain to normal activities, like brushing your teeth or laughing, on just one side of the face
- This pain has been described as electrical, burning, or stabbing and may increase in intensity over time
- Some patients experience tingling, numbness or dull ache before a trigeminal neuralgia attack
Relieving Trigeminal Neuralgia Pain at Home
Whatever your situation, if you are experiencing trigeminal neuralgia pain, finding relief is likely important to you. To date, there are no “home remedies” that have been recognized as effective for managing trigeminal neuralgia pain. That said, there are still some things you can do to help ease your discomfort.
- Avoid your triggers. This can help minimize the pain you experience. Common triggers include hot or cold foods and drinks, spicy foods and air blowing across the face. Some people find that drinking through a straw helps keep the hot or cold liquid from stimulating pain. Paying attention to what brings on an attack can help you minimize triggers in the future.
- When in pain, warm or cool compresses may help. Some people find relief from a cool compress, but this can trigger an attack if you are sensitive to cold. Applying a warm compress or heated bean bag is soothing to some people. However, again, if you have pain in response to hot sensations, a warm compress will likely increase your discomfort.
Get to the Root of the Problem
As you can see, there aren’t a lot of options for relieving your trigeminal neuralgia pain without treatment to resolve the cause of the problem. Because most cases of trigeminal neuralgia are due to an aberrant blood vessel, surgical movement or removal of that blood vessel is one way to eliminate the cause.
However, not all patients are candidates for surgery, and you may wish to consider a less invasive option.
Two other options are medication and Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Certain medications, such as antiseizure medications, antidepressants and muscle relaxers, can sometimes help prevent trigeminal neuralgia attacks. However, not all patients respond to these medications, and they tend to become less effective over time.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery sounds like an invasive procedure, but it’s an advanced form of radiation therapy that has proven effective at treating trigeminal neuralgia when other options haven’t worked. The procedure doesn’t require a hospital stay, is minimally invasive and has a relatively brief and mild recovery. In fact, most patients are back to work and other activities within a day or two.
Find Relief, Even without Surgery
As you can see, there aren’t many proven methods for managing trigeminal neuralgia pain when it occurs. Unfortunately, it’s easier to understand your triggers and prevent an attack from occurring as much as possible. This used to be the only option available to patients. Thankfully, because doctors now understand what causes most cases of trigeminal neuralgia, there are both surgical and nonsurgical treatment options available.
You may have reasons, either personal or medical, for not wanting to undergo surgery to relieve your trigeminal neuralgia. If this is the case, speak to your doctor about the other options available, including Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Many patients have found relief from their trigeminal neuralgia pain, and you may be able to as well.