By Lyn Worthington.
Occipital neuralgia, or ON, is often misdiagnosed at first. Most commonly as tension headaches or migraines, leading to unsuccessful treatment attempts. It can be caused by Head & Neck injury that has damaged or trapped the nerves and sometimes the cause is unknown. Occipital neuralgia is characterized by severe pain that begins in the upper neck and back of the head. This pain is typically one-sided, although it can be on both sides if both occipital nerves have been affected.
Additionally, the pain may radiate forward toward the eye as it follows the path of the occipital nerve(s). Individuals may notice blurred vision as the pain radiates near or behind the eye. The pain is commonly described as sharp, shooting, zapping, an electric shock, or stabbing. The bouts of pain are rarely consistent, but can occur frequently depending on the damage to the nerves. The amount of time the pain lasts typically varies each time the symptom appears; it may last a few seconds or be almost continuous. Occipital neuralgia can last for hours or for days and for some 24/7. Symptoms vary for each individual and whilst pain is the most common symptom, suffers can also experience back and shoulder pain, slurred speech, loss of balance, hearing difficulties, difficulty with coordination and sensitivity to light, especially when headaches occur.
ON is similar to trigeminal neuralgia, or TN, the so called ‘suicide disease’ because of the intense pain, higher rates of suicidal ideation in patients and links to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Whilst it is not classed as a disability many sufferers are disabled. They are unable to complete simple day to day tasks, drive, sleep or work as examples.
Occipital Neuralgia is not curable. There are treatments, medications and surgery, that can assist manage the symptoms in some, however many of those don’t always work. Many of these treatments have only been found in the last few years and haven’t been trialed and tested substantially for ON.
We need more research into better medications to help manage chronic nerve pain. We also need better access to support as many are without specialists to help them, and better understanding of the pain and pain management strategies as it is so unknown.
This was written on behalf of all suffers in ON Group to help raise Awareness.