PENDLETON – Maybe it’s a light breeze that brushes across the face, or a smile that can’t be suppressed. Maybe it’s eating, or drinking or brushing teeth. These are all things most of us take for granted, but for some people, these seemingly normal, everyday events can trigger devastating facial pain.
Trigeminal Neuralgia is a neuropathic disorder that causes severe and often unpredictable pain in the face. Its source is the trigeminal nerve which has three branches reaching toward the eye, the upper teeth and along the jaw toward the lower mouth and chin.
“It’s as if someone implanted a naked wire in your face. You get up and you hit the light switch and you make it go off,” Kathleen Hays of Lapel describes the sensation. “I felt like somebody took a big, long pin and just jabbed…. It was just like being electrocuted and it pulsated.”
Hays, founder of the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association (TNA) support group for Central Indiana, is on a mission to raise awareness of the disorder, support others suffering from it and push for research. Oct. 7 has been designated the first International Trigeminal Neuralgia Awareness Day.
According to the TNA, cause of the disorder is not entirely clear, but it may have to do with a deteriorated covering of the nerve related to pressure, injury or aging. Most people afflicted with TN are over 50 years of age, but even children can be affected. TN, also known as tic douloureux, is not fatal, but there is no known cure for it.
“A lot of people let their teeth go because they can’t brush,” said Hays. “It’s terrible. It’s just a terrible situation.”
“You’re constantly in fear of the pain, you get depressed, start withdrawing, “ said Hays. Others who can’t comprehend the disorder minimize it, or pigeonhole it as TMJ.