All kinds of things can cause a headache, but what about the trigeminal nerve which is in the nasal passages (sinuses)?

Can this nerve cause a referral type of pain into the head?

“Trigeminal nerve irritation can cause headache,” says Dr. Stacey Silvers, MD, of Madison ENT & Facial Plastic Surgery in NYC, who is board certified in otolaryngology; one of her specialties is sinus surgery.

Dr. Silvers continues, “Patients with trigeminal neuralgia have classic pain anywhere along the course of the trigeminal nerve.  There are branches that go as high as the temple, causing sharp stabbing pains on the sides of the head.”

The discomfort can also feel more like a tension type of headache — the kind that’s caused by a stressful situation.

“Though trigeminal nerve headaches are different from migraine and tension varieties, chronic pain can cause chronic tension and stress which can lead to headache,” says Dr. Silvers.

“Migraines can have a variety of triggers (loud noises, flashing lights, foods and even chronic pain).

“People can have headaches from the trigeminal nerve itself based on its course through the skull, or the resulting tension or migraine headache that the neuralgia (chronic pain) may trigger,” due to the emotional stress of having this condition.

Aggressive cleaning of the nose by putting objects up the nasal passages such as a cotton swab can irritate the trigeminal nerve, which has branches extending into the nasal passageways low enough for a cotton swab or finger to easily reach.

Over time, repeated scooping out of mucus chunks can start irritating the trigeminal nerve, leading to headaches.

The solution is to irrigate the nose with a neti pot; this will soak the hardened mucus so that it can be blown out, or, if it’s still stubborn, at least it can be more gently scooped out.

An NYC expert in ear, nose and throat care, Dr. Silvers has been named among America’s Top Physicians and Surgeons in facial plastic surgery and otolaryngology numerous times since 2003.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 


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