Eagle Syndrome: Signs and Treatment Options

You may be aware of the more common secondary ailments that can impact your dental health. For example, gum disease has been associated with other illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. But Eagle syndrome may be a conditions you're not familiar with. According to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD), this syndrome results in throat and facial pain that is typically associated with tonsillectomies or trauma to the throat area.

For people who experience symptoms of recurring pain in the throat or surrounding area, diagnosis and treatment can be challenging given the broad range of illnesses associated with a sore throat. Your first response may be to visit your doctor, which is always a sound idea. But with mouth or throat-related illness, it's also wise to schedule an appointment right away with your dentist. Not only does your dentist treat your teeth, but they can examine your mouth for signs of other problems and recommend the best next steps.

If you have pain in your throat and face, it could be Eagle syndrome. Here's what to watch for and what to expect from your care.

Signs of Eagle Syndrome

Eagle syndrome is also known as elongated styloid process or styloid-stylohyoid syndrome. The styloid process is a small bone located just below your ear. This small bone can cause a lot of pain where elongation or calcification occurs, causing pinched vessels or nerves in the area and resulting in inflammation. Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Sore throat
  • Earache
  • Reduced hearing
  • Tinnitus
  • Trouble swallowing or chewing
  • Feeling as though you have something in your throat
  • Pain when yawning or turning your neck
  • Facial pain

Only 4 percent of the population have an elongated styloid process and most patients are asymptomatic. Eagle syndrome is very rare, as it is estimated to occur in 1 of 62,500 people. Women are three times more likely than men to have this syndrome, notes GARD.

Diagnosing Eagle Syndrome

Diagnosis often includes a long evaluation process to first rule out other dental or health concerns. Diagnostics can include a local shot of anesthesia not only to relieve the pain, but to also rule out whether other factors are contributing to symptoms, according to The British Journal of General Practice.

Your doctor will review your medical history to determine whether any previous tonsillectomy or traumas to the area have occurred that may increase your risk, explains a case report in the Journal of the Korean Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (JKAOMS). Your doctor will also use a panoramic X-ray called an orthopantomograph to view and evaluate the area.

Surgical and Non-Surgical Treatments

Your doctor will decide on the best path for you based on your specific case and pain level. Medication is a common path in non-surgical treatment, and prescriptions can include analgesics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and other pain killers, such as gabapentin, says the JKAOMS. Treatment can last anywhere from three months or as an ongoing course for pain management.

Where non-surgical treatment isn't working, your doctor will likely recommend steroids, pain block injections or surgery to remove the bone, according to a report published in the Journal of Maxillofacial and Oral Surgery. After surgery, the doctor will give you an analgesics prescription and ask you to return in seven days so they can remove your stitches.

Take extra care around the surgical area. Talk to your doctor about brushing your teeth and rinsing with an antibacterial rinse like Colgate Total Advanced Health, which removes 24 times more bacteria for a healthier mouth.

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  • About 90 percent of people with mouth cancer and some types of throat cancer have used tobacco. The risk of developing these cancers increases as people smoke or chew more often or for a longer time.

  • Smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop these cancers.

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  • Smokeless tobacco has been linked to cancers of the cheek, gums and inner surface of the lips. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of these cancers by nearly 50 times.7