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Dealing With Trigeminal Neuralgia

By Mary Pettigrew
AdobeStock_132974156-sq.jpgTrigeminal Neuralgia is a conundrum. It is a syndrome which doesn’t only affect people with MS. But, when it does affect people with MS it can be confusing and also horrifically painful. I like to compare it to a tree with the root lodged in the skull, behind the ear. Three (tri) branches spread out across the head, face, and neck, with each nerve branch affecting every facet of movements via the face, head, and neck. Whether you blink, swallow, or breathe, all cranial movements are in charge and are affected when dealing with TN. 

I was diagnosed with MS in 2001, yet not until a few years ago did I begin to experience the symptoms related to trigeminal neuralgia. For a few months, I thought I was experiencing an earache or an infection which continued to recur and linger in my left gland. Finally, after three months of experiencing this same phenomenon, I realized this was something different, so I spoke with my neurologist and together we concluded I was now dealing with trigeminal neuralgia. 

For me, the trigeminal neuralgia starts deep in my left ear canal. It starts as an itching, then spreads deeper, stabbing behind my jawbone and across the jaw and traveling down into my neck. Sometimes, I feel a stabbing into my left eye. I now remember years ago, long before I was diagnosed with MS, this familiar stabbing which afflicted me and all I chose to do was to pour Visine or similar types of eye allergy drops into that eye, yet nothing worked. Now, I get it. Not everyone has symptoms related to trigeminal neuralgia, but when they do, they know it. A good example for me is when my dog barks, I’m in excruciating pain. 


Depending on the type of trigeminal neuralgia you may or may not have been diagnosed with, symptoms can vary from something as simple as an itch or tickle somewhere on the face or neck, or they can be as intense as an electric shock or knife stabbing, “jab” in a particular area, causing excruciating pain. 


A variety of triggers can set off a “flare” of trigeminal neuralgia episodes. Depending on your symptoms and professional diagnosis, triggers are important to be wary of and important to pay attention to in order to stave them off as best as possible.
  • Shaving (for men)
  • Touching your face
  • Loud noises
  • High pitched sounds
  • Eating/chewing gum
  • Drinking
  • Brushing teeth
  • Excessive talking (particularly on the phone)
  • Cold/cool breezes
  • Smiling
  • Washing your face
  • Basically, when it hits, anything of which targets your face, head and neck are affected in an odd, sometimes painful way.

There are drugs available if your TN condition makes it impossible to handle the day-to-day tasks necessary in life. My condition is considered to be chronic (Type II), yet although I was offered meds, I refused to take the drugs with side effects which can affect the daily functions of living on a regular basis. Therefore, other outlets I’ve found to be helpful are mostly topical. Besides the occasional use of over-the-counter analgesics (Tylenol, Advil, Aleve), I also enjoy homeopathic eardrops meant for earaches. Although the relief is temporary, it’s still relief. 

Also, I use lidocaine and have created a homemade, crude yet malleable heating pad by filling a sock with dry brown rice. I fill the sock with the dry rice, tie the end of the sock in a knot and place it in the microwave for approximately one minute. I can then mesh and mold it onto the areas of which I need the most pain therapy. The good news is I’ve kept the same sock-filled rice pack for several years without having to replace the rice or wash the sock. Believe me, you’ll know when you need to start over again if the rice starts to “cook!” You’ll smell it. 

Lastly, many people who deal with trigeminal neuralgia must take note regarding dental issues. Many people I come across don’t realize their teeth are not the root problem, when in fact it could be caused the trigeminal neuralgia itself. I recently interviewed my own dentist as to how much he knew about MS and TN and was pleasantly surprised to learn how educated he was and the fact he also teaches this condition to other dental students here in Dallas – where I live. Therefore, it’s crucial to discuss your MS with dentists and make sure you can avoid unnecessary root canals and the like. 

Make sure you don’t jump to conclusions, yet if you feel you might have trigeminal neuralgia, get yourself checked out by your neurologist to be sure.