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What Is Carotidynia?

By Meshell Powell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Carotidynia is a type of headache that also involves pain in the neck, ear, and face. Vascular changes in the carotid artery of the neck are thought to be responsible for this type of pain, although the exact cause is not clearly understood. Some of the most common symptoms of carotidynia include pain on one side of the head and neck, stuffy nose, and watery eyes. These symptoms are often confused with other medical conditions, such as an ear infection, trigeminal neuralgia, or tonsillitis. Treatment most frequently involves the use of prescription migraine medications, although other drugs may sometimes be used. Any specific questions or concerns about carotidynia should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.

The majority of cases occur in patients under the age of 60, although the reason for this is unclear. Many patients experience illnesses such as an upper respiratory infection or tonsillitis prior to developing symptoms. Exposure to cold weather seems to trigger symptoms in some people. Upon physical examination, the carotid artery in the neck is found to be tender and swollen, an occurrence that may help to obtain an accurate diagnosis. There does not appear to be a genetic component to the onset of this condition, and children of an affected parent do not seem to have an increased risk of developing carotidynia.

Early misdiagnosis is relatively common, with carotidynia frequently being confused with conditions such as trigeminal neuralgia or chronic sinusitis. Many patients suffering from this disorder have a history of migraines, although this is not always the case. The pain associated with this condition can be quite severe and usually involves one side of the face, neck, and head. Prescription medications designed to prevent or treat migraines are typically used to treat this condition, provided that no underlying medical conditions are present.

A relatively rare but potentially serious cause of carotidynia is known as carotid arteritis. This condition may lead to symptoms such as fever, ringing in the ears, or pain involving the tongue or jaw when chewing. Visual disturbances may also occur, sometimes leading to sudden blindness. A minor surgical procedure known as a biopsy is usually performed in order to accurately diagnose this condition and rule out the possibility of more severe complications. Once diagnosed, carotid arteritis is typically treated immediately with the use of corticosteroid medications in the hope of preventing irreversible blindness.

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Discussion Comments

By anon944197 — On Apr 06, 2014

I was just diagnosed with migrainous carotidynia in the ER last night. I will be consulting this week with the diagnosing on-call neurologist from last night. I am happy to finally have a diagnosis, and be able to work from there. I was mistreated for swollen glands earlier in the week, and four years ago also, when I was then put into ICU for three days. I'm glad I will be able to get this properly treated, and hopefully will get it under control.

By anon924229 — On Jan 03, 2014

I was diagnosed with carotidynia several years ago. I suffered through several months of intermittent agonizing pain on the left side of my neck. I was prescribed NSAIDs, narcotic pain killers, and high doses of prednisone. I will die before I ever take prednisone again! (While taking prednisone, I could not sleep. My heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest, I had a voracious, insatiable appetite, went from 190 pounds to 225 in less than a month, and I've never been able to lose most of it. I had pain in my hips and legs that still recurs now and then, even though I stopped taking the prednisone years ago. And worst of all, the prednisone did absolutely nothing to suppress my symptoms.

Finally, I saw a rheumatologist who prescribed a light dose of Flexeril -- just a half pill every night before bed. My symptoms stopped immediately, and I have not had a recurrence of carotidynia since. Best of all, after a week or so of using Flexeril, I stopped using it and never needed to take it again.

I don't know if Flexeril would work for everybody, but it's worth a try, since long-term use of prednisone, NSAIDs, and narcotic pain killers is, in a word, bad!

By anon337253 — On Jun 04, 2013

Sounds like my symptoms exactly, although was thought to be trigeminal neuralgia. Good to read such useful information.

By bear78 — On Feb 06, 2013

Carotidynia is extremely painful, I wouldn't wish this condition on my worst enemy. There are people who have chronic carotidynia and have been living with the pain for years.

By ysmina — On Feb 06, 2013

@anamur-- Actually, that doesn't sound like carotidynia. The pain associated with carotidynia is experienced at the head, neck, face and also ears.

I suffer from carotidynia and I get terrible ear aches, migraines and pain and inflammation on the right side of my neck.

The problem with carotidynia is that the pain doesn't seem to be localized anywhere. This makes carotidynia difficult to diagnose and treat. I've heard of people experiencing problems with their jaws, throats, eyes and noses in addition to head, neck, face and ear aches.

By serenesurface — On Feb 05, 2013

Can carotidynia be localized to the neck?

My mom has been suffering from neck pain for some time. Her neck becomes extremely stiff and aches. Massage and topical analgesics help soften it and relieve the pain. She often asks me to massage the top of her neck where it connects to the head.

Does this sound like carotidynia?

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