If you suffer from severe head or facial pain, you may want to learn more about trigeminal and occipital neuralgia. Neuralgia is nerve-related pain, and trigeminal and occipital neuralgia are two of the most potentially-debilitating types. Trigeminal neuralgia and occipital neuralgia affect different areas of the head. Both can produce symptoms ranging in severity from minor twinges to migraines so bad that they induce vomiting. There are several similarities between the two conditions, such as methods of treatment, but the key difference between the two is which nerve is affected.
The differences between trigeminal and occipital neuralgia
Trigeminal and occipital neuralgia are similar, but there are differences. Trigeminal neuralgia is nerve pain related to the trigeminal nerve. This type of neuralgia is caused by damage, inflammation, or irritation of the trigeminal nerve. In occipital neuralgia, on the other hand, it’s the occipital nerve that’s affected.
There is one trigeminal nerve on each side of the face, and each nerve splits into three branches. It provides sensory innervation to the face and motor innervation to the muscles that are used for chewing and swallowing.
- The first branch is the ophthalmic nerve (V1), which covers the scalp and forehead, the upper eyelid, the conjunctiva and cornea of the eye, the nose, and frontal sinuses.
- The second branch is the maxillary nerve (V2), which covers the lower eyelid, cheek, upper lip, teeth, and gums, the nasal mucosa, the palate, part of the pharynx, the maxillary, ethmoid and sphenoid sinuses.
- The third branch is the mandibular nerve (V3), which covers the lower lip, teeth, and gums, the floor of the mouth, the anterior ? of the tongue, the chin, the jaw, and parts of the external ear. The mandibular branch is the nerve that also provides the motor function.
- All three branches supply parts of the meninges
Pain from trigeminal neuralgia can be occasional twinges, regular episodes of severe pain, constant pain, or volleys of painful attacks that come and go regularly for days or weeks at a time. Activities like eating, talking, or even feeling a breeze on the cheek can sometimes trigger an attack.
Trigeminal neuralgia pain may be limited to the area affected by one branch of the trigeminal nerve. The pain is usually limited to one side of the face, but in some rare cases there might be pain on both sides of the face. In extremely rare cases, pain may be felt at the same time on both sides of the face.
In occipital neuralgia, it’s the occipital nerve that’s affected.
The occipital nerve runs from the top of the spinal cord up the neck and up the scalp. When the occipital nerve is damaged, inflamed, or irritated, an individual might experience pain that begins at the back of the head and radiates forward.
Pain behind the eye, a tender scalp, sensitivity to light, or pain when moving the neck might also occur. Because there are two occipital nerves running up from the neck over the scalp, it’s possible to only experience pain on one side of the head at a time.
Washing the hair or lying on a pillow might become very difficult. Additionally, the pain associated with occipital neuralgia can be similar to other head pain conditions, so it’s easy for an occipital headache or occipital migraine to be mistaken for something else and go undiagnosed.
You can learn more about occipital neuralgia in the video below.
Conditions related to trigeminal and occipital neuralgia
There are certain conditions that are commonly associated with neuralgia, although the type is not limited to only occipital neuralgia and trigeminal neuralgia.
A few of these conditions include:
- Multiple sclerosis