Glossopharyngeal Neuralgia

Glossopharyngeal neuralgia (GN) is a rare pain syndrome that affects the glossopharyngeal nerve (the ninth cranial nerve that lies deep within the neck).

Glossopharyngeal neuralgia usually begins after age 40 and occurs more often in men. GN primarily affects the elderly.

GN can be caused by compression of the glossopharyngeal nerve, but in some cases, no cause is evident. Rarely, the cause is a tumor in the brain or neck. Like trigeminal neuralgia, GN is associated with multiple sclerosis.

GN causes sharp, stabbing pulses of pain in the back of the throat and tongue, the tonsils, and the middle ear. The excruciating pain of GN can last for a few seconds to a few minutes, and may return multiple times in a day or once every few weeks.

Many individuals with GN relate the attacks of pain to specific trigger factors such as:

  • Swallowing
  • Drinking cold liquids
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Talking
  • Clearing the throat
  • Touching the gums or inside the mouth

Some individuals recover from an initial attack and never have another. Others will experience clusters of attacks followed by periods of short or long remission. Individuals may lose weight if they fear that chewing, drinking, or eating will cause an attack.

Most doctors will attempt to treat the pain first with drugs. Some individuals respond well to anticonvulsant drugs, such as carbamazepine and gabapentin. Surgical options, including nerve resection, tractotomy, or microvascular decompression, should be considered when individuals either don’t respond to, or stop responding to, drug therapy. Surgery is usually successful at ending the cycles of pain, although there may be some sensory loss in the mouth, throat, or tongue.