Facial pain is a growing and serious problem affecting millions of us. Your face can become painful for a number of reasons --- whether it's from an injury, sleeping in an awkward position, or the symptom of a serious medical condition --- but, regardless of the cause, facial pain is among the most distressing of all pains.
While statistics on facial pain can be hard to find, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research reports that pain in the face from temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (known by various acronyms, including "TMD", "TMJ" or "TMDJ") alone affects between 5 and 12% of the population -- and that's not counting the variety of other conditions that could cause facial pain. That would mean that up to 40 million Americans suffer from face pain at some point in our lives.
What kinds of conditions can cause face pain? In addition to TMJ, the dysfunction of the jaw joint mentioned above, several other medical conditions could be the culprit of the pain around your face. Certain neuralgias, characterized by shocking pain that follows the path of a damaged nerve , can affect the face, as can conditions as varied as hepatitis, Eagle syndrome, and even depression.
What can you do about face pain? Often, face pain is a symptom from an underlying condition, so that treating that condition may be the best place to start. Check out the list below of 10 conditions that can cause facial pain, as well as ideas on how to treat them.
1. Tonsillolithiasis and Facial Pain
Tonsilloliths are not giant rock formations from thousands of years ago, despite how their name sounds: tonsilloliths are calcified structures that arise from chronic inflammation of the tonsils.
These formations could grow without the patient noticing, but in some cases they result the sensation of a foreign body in the throat, problems swallowing, and pain around the neck and jaw area.
In 2011, a large team of specialists in Croatia, including Stjepan Siber with the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at University Hospital in Osikej, treated a patient with "attacks of orofacial pain" and other symptoms attributed to tonsilloliths. The patient chose not to have surgery for treatment -- regardless, the team stresses the "importance of tonsilloliths as a cause of orofacial pain."
As mentioned in the introduction, TMJD conditions (problems with your jaw) are one of the leading causes of facial pain. If the area around your jaw hurts lately, or you are experiencing other symptoms of either TMJD or tonsolloliths, ignoring that pain may not be a good strategy - if the pain is from one of these conditions, it's probably not going anywhere until you seek treatment.
2. Depression Can Make Your Face Hurt.
If you've been lucky enough not to experience depression, you've probably heard about its effect in friends or family members, and know that it's not pretty. In addition to the list of emotional, psychological, and more common physical changes that occur with depression, researchers from Finland add another --- being depressed could make your face hurt.
In 2012, a large team of experts with various institutions in Finland, including Kirsi Silipa with the Institute of Dentistry at the University of Eastern Finland, looked into the relationship between chronic facial pain and depression. Data from over 63 cases of chronic facial pain showed that 17.5% of patients were "depressive 3 years earlier," versus only 7.1% of people without chronic facial pain. This relationship is deemed "significant," so that the team concludes that "depressiveness increases the risk for chronic facial pain."
Everyone's case of depression is different, and there are many different kinds of medication available, as well as psychotherapy programs, residential treatment programs, and even lifestyle suggestions such as getting exercise and adequate sleep . If you think you might be depressed, do yourself --- and your face --- a favor and seek treatment as soon as you can.
3. Women Who Feel Out of Control Feel More Facial Pain.
There are some things in life that we have control over, such as the clothes we wear (at least, which top with which bottom from the limited closet that we may have), how many glasses of water a day we drink, and how much we prioritize exercise.
For most of us, however, the list of what we cannot control is longer than the lost of those things we can. Now, research from North Carolina suggests that if we let the feeling of being out of control get out of control, we could feel the pain of the situation in our face.
In 2011, Anne Sanders with the Department of Dental Ecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill led an investigation into the connection between gender, stress, and pain around the mouth and face (an area referred to as orofacial).
Using data from nearly 4,000 adults, the team found that "orofacial pain symptoms [affected] 10.1% in the Australian population," and that prevalence was higher in females, and "positively related to distress."
Furthermore, data suggested that "a sense of control was protective" against orofacial pain symptoms, but only for males. The report concludes that the higher prevalence of orafacial pain symptoms in females was best explained by their "lower perception of control."
So, get your feelings of being out of control under control! Right. One first step in managing distress or other forms of anxiety, could be to visit a specialist. The time and money required could be worth the pain in your face.
4. Trigeminal Neuralgia: The Nerve's to Blame for the Facial Pain.
Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition in which you feel sudden, severe episodes of pain occur in one or more branches of the trigeminal nerve, which is the nerve in charge of touch, pain, and temperature on the face. While most cases of trigeminal neuralgia arise from an unknown cause, it can arise from a secondary cause from conditions such as tumors or multiple sclerosis.
Trigeminal neuralgia, also known as "tic douloureux" and "the suicide disease" has been called the most painful condition a human being can experience.
In 2011, a large team of specialists including Daniel Mueller with the University of Duisberg-Essen in Germany, screened 3, 336 people for a connection between trigeminal neuralgia and "persistent idiopathic facial pain."
They found that "lifetime prevalence" of trigeminal neuralgia occurs in an estimated 0.3% of people, and that persistent facial pain occurs in 0.03%. They conclude that trigeminal neuralgia and persistent idiopathic facial pain are both "rare facial pain disorders."
A few years earlier, in 2009, experts Roddy McMillan and Joanna Zakrzewska with the Oral Medicine Department at Eastman Dental Hospital in London found that ablative procedures (the surgical removal of tissues) on people with trigeminal neuralgia give a "50% chance of patients being pain free for 4 years," and a procedure called microvascular decompression (MVD), which relieves compression on the nerve, alleviated 70% of patients' pain for ten years.
While there are a few side effects for both procedures (ask your caretaker for details), the team finds that "surgical procedures result in markedly improved quality of life" in patients with trigeminal neuralgia. If surgery isn't for you, they also suggest that patient support groups can also play a crucial, helpful role.
5. Glossopharyneal Neuralgia: The Other Nervy Culprit for Facial Pain.
Ever feel a stabbing pain in your face that travels along your throat, chin or up to your ear? It could be glossopharyngeal neuralgia. Glossopharyngeal neuralgia is another kind of neuralgia that can manifest as pain in the face (similar to trigeminal neuralgia, see above), the difference being that the glossopharyngeal nerve provides feeling to the throat.
Pain from glossopharyngeal neuralgia can arise from swallowing, talking, or coughing, and can last for several minutes at a time.
In 2010, a large team of scientists from various institutions in Korea, including Dr. Kyung Ream Han with the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, reported on a 65 year old male patient who was diagnosed with glossopharyngeal neuralgia and suffered from "severe paroxysmal pain in his right chin and ear," including "frequent paroxysms of severe stabbing pain in the right side of his mandible radiating to the right ear," amongst other symptoms.
After much testing, the medical team determined that the heart was involved in these complications. The patient was "successfully treated with a permanent pacemaker" as well as medications.
The above case study gives further support to not ignoring facial pain when you feel it, no matter how convinced you are that "it's nothing" - judging by the case above, other parts of your body, such as your heart, could be suffering as well.
6. Facial Pain and Dacryostenosis: If Only We Could Cry About It