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Are you experiencing a burning, zapping, or tingling pain in your head, reaching from the base of your neck, where your spine comes to an end, perhaps all the way to your forehead, yet without affecting your ears? You may be suffering from a condition called Occipital Neuralgia.

Occipital neuralgia is a nasty-sounding name for a rather unpleasant condition, a condition that can cause such horrible symptoms as unilateral or bilateral pain on the side of the head, being very sensitive to light, a sore, tender scalp, and pain on rotating the neck. Its defining symptom is a distinct burning, electric-like, tingling sensation that tends to start at the base of your head and then radiates upwards, sometimes even to an eye.

What Are The Possible Causes Of Occipital Neuralgia?

The occipital nerves run through the nape of the neck to the top of the scalp, on both sides of the head. Occipital Neuralgia can occur when one or both of these nerves become injured or inflamed. This may be the result of osteoarthritis, an injury to either the skull or the scalp, cervical disc disease, tumors within the neck, gout, diabetes, an infection, an inflammation within the blood vessels, or compressed muscles, but it may also happen spontaneously in some cases.

The specific cause of Occipital Neuralgia in individual patients frequently remains unidentified, and Occipital Neuralgia itself is quite uncommon. It is also possible, however, to suffer from migraines in which the occipital nerve plays a role, rather than having Occipital Neuralgia.

How Is Occipital Neuralgia Diagnosed?

The diagnostic process will be multifaceted, including:

  • An in-depth discussion about your symptoms and medical history

  • A physical examination that will focus around the neck and scalp

  • The administration of a medication called an occipital nerve block — when this medication is effective at treating your symptoms, that goes a long way towards confirming your diagnosis of Occipital Neuralgia

  • Blood tests

  • An MRI scan

How Can You Treat Occipital Neuralgia

First of all, should you be suffering from a burning pain in your head right now, perhaps gently massaging the muscles around your neck, having someone else do that, or using an electric massager if you have one can offer relief. Applying hot packs, taking an over the counter painkiller, and staying away from stimulating and noisy environments, can also all help.

Following diagnosis, the aforementioned occipital nerve blockers are very promising.

Along with them, certain types of anti-seizure medication, steroid injections, muscle relaxants and antidepressants may also be prescribed. In rare cases, an operation to stimulate your nerves or to decompress the blood vessels that will, sometimes, be the cause of Occipital Neuralgia offers a solution. Together with your medical team, you may also decide to opt for surgery that either cuts or burns the offending nerve to relieve you of your debilitating symptoms. Your medical team will not typically recommend more radical treatment if nerve blocks have no effect, however, as your symptoms may have another, as yet unidentified cause.

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