Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.
What is Carotidynia?
This is a type of headache that involves pain in your face, neck, and ears. Most people who have this type of headache are under the age of sixty. It was first described by Temple Fay in 1927. It is sometimes described as a secondary headache because there are other medical problems that are causing this type of headache
Many times someone with carotidynia will experience illnesses like tonsillitis or an upper respiratory infection before they start to develop the symptoms of carotidynia. Some of the more common symptoms of carotidynia can include:
- Stuffy nose
- Eyes that appear watery
- Pain on one side of your neck and head
- Tenderness of your carotid artery.
- Pain deep in your ears due to a branch of carotid arteries that run behind your ear
- Pain that can radiate behind your eye(s) and jaw
Sometimes the pain that a person feels with this type of headache can be aggravated by sneezing, coughing, yawning, or moving your neck. The pain felt can also involve inflammation of the carotid artery. The pain that is associated with carotidynia can range from mild to severe and can come and go.
There is a rare but potentially serious cause of carotidynia called carotid arteritis that is a form of giant cell arteritis and affects the arteries in your head. This rare cause of carotidynia can cause the following symptoms.
- Pain that involves your jaw or tongue when chewing
- Ringing in your ears
- May have visual disturbances that can lead to sudden blindness
Although the exact cause is not known it is thought that having vascular changes in your carotid artery, which is a major blood vessel that supplies your brain with oxygenated blood, of your neck, to be responsible for this type of pain. It does not appear that this type of headache has any genetic components to bring it on because children who have a parent with these types of headaches do seem to have an increased risk of having carotidynia. In some people it seems that being exposed to cold weather can trigger the headaches.
There are also things that can put people at risk for developing carotidynia such as smoking that can result in plaque formation in your arteries and having a recent dental procedure.
It is very common to make a misdiagnosis when first seeing your physician with the symptoms of carotidynia because frequently it is confused with other medical conditions such as chronic sinusitis or trigeminal neuralgia which is a type of facial pain because the symptoms displayed with these conditions are similar to the ones associated with carotidynia. In addition many patients who have carotidynia have a history of migraine headaches but not always.
To accurately diagnosis carotidynia the physician will usually need to perform a biopsy to help rule out the possibility of more severe complications. The physician will also do a physical examination and look at the symptoms the patient has.
Treating carotidynia is usually done using prescription medications given for migraines but there are also other medications that can be used sometimes. The physician may treat carotidynia by using corticosteroid medications in the hopes of preventing irreversible blindness. Usually when a person has carotidynia it is self-correcting.