- Published: 23 April 2008
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Natasha Dickens, age 16, of Gulfport, Miss., for her question:
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NEURALGIA AND NEURITIS?
Neuralgia is a severe pain that occurs along a nerve. Its cause is not known. Neuritis is an inflammation of a nerve caused by a disease or injury.
Neuritis is a painful condition that may affect one or more nerves. Bacteria, viruses and diet and vitamin deficiencies can cause neuritis.
Infections such as tuberculosis and shingles can invade a nerve, resulting in neuritis. Neuritis can also develop when a disease, such as diabetes, changes the activities of the body's cells. Neuritis caused by physical injury to a nerve involves only the injured nerve.
Neuritis is often confused with a completely different disorder called neuralgia.
The pain in neuralgia may be limited to one part of the nerve, or it may extend along the nerve's branches. It may occur as repeated stabs of pain in the teeth, sinuses, eyes, face, tongue or throat.
Neuralgia occurs in only two nerves. One nerve, the trigeminal, has three branches that enter the eyes, face, sinuses and teeth. The other, the glossopharyngeal, leads to the back of the tongue and throat.
Neuralgia is sometimes confused with other conditions including neuritis. But these occur in many different parts of the body. True neuritis can permanently damage a nerve while neuralgia does not harm the nerve.
A type of neuralgia that is common among older people is called tic douloureux. The name is French for "painful twitching." Tic douloureux affects the trigeminal nerve and causes facial pain. The face muscles may contract each time a stab of pain occurs.
The pain occurs very suddenly and then shoots along one side of the face. It usually starts at a specific part of the nerve called the trigger zone. It may then spread along various branches of the nerves, but it never involves other nerves.
In tic douloureux, the pain may last only a few hours, or it may last several weeks. It may then disappear for a few months or years, but it usually returns.
Glossopharyngeal neuralgia is a very rare condition. It affects the throat and the back of the tongue.
Temporary relief for both types of neuralgia may be obtained by using certain types of prescribed drugs, or by numbing the nerve with a doctor's injection of alcohol. If the pain does not disappear, the only cure might be a surgical operation to remove part of the nerve.
If neuritis continues for a long period of time, a nerve may become so badly damaged that it can no longer function properly. As a result, a person may lose the ability to sense heat, pressure and touch. The body also may lose control over some automatic activities. If the nerve can no longer stimulate a muscle, the muscle wastes away and eventually becomes paralyzed. Neuritis is a serious disorder that requires a doctor's care.