Imagine a pain so sharp and intense that you lose your breath when it comes out of nowhere. It is blinding, literally and figuratively, as it shoots across your face, across the top of your head, and down the sides of your neck. If you have trigeminal neuralgia, you don’t need to imagine this pain – you know it well. Knowing what causes trigeminal neuralgia to flare up is the first step in avoiding this breath-taking pain. Here are 12 of the most common trigeminal neuralgia triggers.

What is trigeminal neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia is searing neuropathic facial pain that originates in the trigeminal nerve, located just behind the mandible near the temporomandibular joint. This nerve has three branches that transmit sensations from the face and inside the mouth to the brain.

There are a few different potential causes of trigeminal neuralgia, including:

  • Pressure on the trigeminal nerve, usually by a blood vessel exiting the brain stem, which wears away the protective coating around the nerve (the myelin sheath)
  • Multiple sclerosis, a disease that causes deterioration of the myelin sheath
  • Trigeminal nerve compression from a tumor
  • Arteriovenous malformation (tangled arteries and veins)
  • Injury to the trigeminal nerve (due to sinus surgery, oral surgery, stroke, or facial trauma)

This neuropathic facial pain can take many forms. Some patients experience sharp, electric jolts that last only a few seconds. Others may have a constant ache or burning feeling. There may be days, weeks, or months without pain, followed by painful episodes of varying lengths of time.

Pain is usually confined to one side of the face, although some patients will have pain across the whole face. This disorder is most common is women and occurs most frequently in people over 50.

What causes trigeminal neuralgia to flare up?

Every person suffering from trigeminal neuralgia has different triggers. Here are 12 of the most common trigeminal neuralgia triggers.

1. Stress

Stress is a major intensifier of pain of all kinds. Why it works on the body the way it does is not precisely known, but it can trigger and increase trigeminal nerve pain.

2. Certain foods

Caffeine, sweets, and spicy foods may be triggers for some patients. These may trigger the branches of the trigeminal nerve that enervate the inside of the mouth, or it may be the way in which these foods interact in the body.

3. Alcohol

Alcohol interacts with the blood vessels