Trigeminal Neuralgia: Two Words, One Very Challenging Source of Pain

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN): Two words, one very large source of debilitating pain. Regarded as one of the most painful conditions in the medical world, TN (also known as tic douloureax) takes no prisoners when it attacks. Sadly, I know all about it.

According to the US Facial Pain Association, each year approximately 4.3 per 100,000 people are diagnosed with TN, with a higher incidence rate in women. TN affects the trigeminal nerve, which has three branches responsible for sensation across all regions of the face, including the oral cavity. TN can be triggered by a whiff of cold air, light touch, eating or talking. And here’s the unfortunate news – TN is more apt to happen to MSers. Lucky us, right? MS is cited as a cause of TN because MS deteriorates our myelin sheath, the fatty covering of nerve cells and fibers. Researchers believe damage to the myelin sheath results in increase electric activity around the trigeminal nerve, which triggers the pain regions of the brain.

Unfortunately, treating TN is not simple, and the intensity and unpredictability of the pain can upset your life and career. As somebody who has managed TN for many years, I want to share some of my tricks that have made my life with TN a little bit easier to bear. I hope these help you too!

1. Develop a Mantra: Living with TN is not easy but maintaining a positive outlook has made a world of difference. Develop a positive mantra and repeat it to yourself during your toughest moments. My mantra? “Love your life more than your pain.”

2. Use Scarves as More Than Just an Accessory: Wear warm scarves to protect the side of your face that hurts the most. Adjust the scarf if cold air rushes in from outside of it or from an indoor air-conditioning system.

3. Soothe Yourself with Scents: Because TN sometimes makes me feel frustrated, stressed and fatigued beyond measure, I gently rub lavender oil on my temples. This helps calm me down and reduces my pain. Remember, your mind is a powerful tool in the fight against pain.

4. Knock the Noise: If TN makes you sensitive to loud or disruptive noises, use soft earplugs when noise makes it seem like your TN is taking permanent residence in your body.

5. Find the Perfect Bed Mate: Severe pain may make sleeping on hard pillows difficult. Choosing the right density and material might take some time, but it will help your nights become more relaxed and pain-free.

6. Warm Yourself To Sleep: Before falling asleep, heat up a thermal pillow. Not only does it help relax facial and neck muscles. Another option is taking a warm shower, which can help you feel more relaxed and fall asleep faster. Be sure to mind the strength of the showerhead, as this can increase facial pain if too strong.

7. Don’t Suffer in Silence: Unfortunately, not everyone understands or believes in TN. Although explaining yourself can be frustrating at times, raising awareness about all aspects of MS is important for our entire community.

8. Be Healthy, Balanced, and Rested: Last but certainly not least, eating healthy, reducing stress in your life and getting enough rest can make a huge difference in symptoms. Do your best to stay balanced, manage your symptoms, and know that you are not alone in living with TN.

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