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A Patient’s Dilemma: When the Treatment Could Be Worse than the Illness

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Headache related image Photo: Getty Images

It started June 2010, a pain that radiated up my neck into the back of my head with a mild frontal headache. It felt as if the nerves in my neck and head were inflamed and there was a horrible feeling of pressure. It wasn’t like any headache I’d ever had before as most of the pain was in my neck and there was more pressure than ache.

At the time I had a bad cold so I just put it down to being congested and thought it would go away once I’d recovered. I was used to headaches. I’d suffered with migraines since the age of 11 and had one or two a month for years until I discovered peppermint tea in an alternative remedy book and started drinking it. Then the migraines disappeared. In all that time, I had never taken a pain reliever. I just went to bed in a darkened room, put cold cloths on my head and waited the 12 hours till it was over. The pain was severe, but it still didn’t tempt me to use pain relievers. I knew it was self-limiting and it would go away on its own.

That’s what I thought about the strange new headache -- that it would go away by itself. I was wrong. After several weeks, it was still there. I remember thinking that I wanted to drill open my head to release the pressure. There were days when I couldn’t work because looking at a computer screen made my eyes hurt and the hyperacusis (hypersensitivity to sound) I used to suffer from came back with a vengeance. Whenever my neck really hurt, I couldn’t bear any noise. Even people talking felt like someone scraping their nails on a chalk board. My instinct told me that my audial nerves, that lead from the ears into the back of the head, were swollen. I went to my doctor, and he agreed. He said that mucus from my cold had probably worked its way to the back of my ears and that might have caused the irritation. He gave me a decongestant and an anti-inflammatory.

I decided to take the treatment, having already suffered for weeks. It took longer to help than I thought, but after another five weeks of taking the medications every day, I was better. I thought that would be it. I was wrong again.

Add a Comment3 Comments

Well, it says here:

'The cochlear nerve (also auditory or acoustic nerve) is a nerve in the head that carries signals from the cochlea of the inner ear to the brain.'


But then that is wikipedia which may not be accurate, you don't know with wikipedia.

I think there is more than one nerve involved, as it hurts all the way from the back of my ears, down the sides of the neck and then up the back of the neck into the back of my head. The frontal head pain is very mild, I think it is just referred pain from whatever is going on at the back.

I looked up my symptoms online and they don't fit with trigeminal neuralgia but are more like atypical trigeminal neuralgia, but I totally agree with you that the doctors involved have not given me a very thorough work up. I expected to be referred to hospital at least but the family doctor didn't think it was necessary. She didn't ask about my medical history, it was all very quick, 'this is what you have and here's what you take'.

I was just grateful that they finally believed me that it is nerve and not muscle pain.

I agree a neurologist would be better. I should ask for a referral, just don't want to ruffle her feathers. If I ask to see a man doctor then they won't send me to her again and I can get a second opinion.

Thanks for your help,


March 12, 2011 - 9:31am
(reply to Joanna Karpasea-Jones)

Well, I've now looked at occipital neuralgia too (the doc just said 'neuralgia' and didn't tell me the type) and I think my symptoms are most like that, rather than ATN. That's probably the one she diagnosed me with. The thing that clinched it for me is that I found this page:


And they say that the occipital nerve is located at the second and third vertebrae in the neck. That makes perfect sense because my C2 and C3 bones are fused together (have been since I was 23), perhaps the fusion has got worse and its pinched the occipital nerve? In which case, will anti-epileptics really help unless I take them permanently? As the neck malformation is still going to be there after I cease taking the drugs.

I am going to go back to the dr to discuss this.

March 13, 2011 - 4:52am
EmpowHER Guest

You have an interesting dignostic dilemma here. It is pretty safe to say that you head pain has nothing to do with your ears or Eustachion tubes. (The acoustic nerve does not go to the back of your head). It *could* be an occipital neuralgia, (although I doubt it); if so, injecting a local anaesthetic into the nerve as it comes up the back of your head should relieve the pain promptly. (If it does, I would suggest injecting a mixture of steroid and local, as a more permanaent fix). The hyperacusis strongly suggests a migraine equivalent. My suggestion is a referral to a neurologist, preferably one specialising in head pain. You need a lot more thorough workup than you have had to date. (I am a retired Emergency Doc., (and a pretty good diagnostician...))

March 12, 2011 - 8:09am
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