Eagle syndrome is a rare condition that creates pain in your face or neck. This pain comes from problems with either the styloid process or stylohyoid ligament. The styloid process is a small, pointy bone just below your ear. The stylohyoid ligament connects it to the hyoid bone in your neck.
The main symptom of Eagle syndrome is pain usually on one side of your neck or face, especially near your jaw. The pain may come and go or be constant. It’s often worse when you yawn or move or turn your head. You may also feel the pain radiate toward your ear.
Other symptoms of Eagle syndrome include:
- difficulty swallowing
- feeling like something’s stuck in your throat
- ringing in your ears
Eagle syndrome is caused by either an unusually long styloid process or a calcified stylohyoid ligament. Doctors aren’t sure about what causes either one of these.
While it can affect people of both genders and all ages, it’s more common in women between the ages of 40 and 60.
Diagnosing Eagle syndrome is difficult because it shares symptoms with many other conditions. Your doctor will probably start by feeling your head and neck for any signs of an unusually long styloid process. They may also use a CT scan or X-ray to get a better view of the area around your styloid process and stylohyoid ligament.
You might be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, who can help you rule out any other conditions that could be causing the symptoms.
Eagle syndrome is often treated by shortening the styloid process with surgery. Your surgeon may need to remove your tonsils to access your styloid process. They may also be able to access it through an opening in your neck, but this usually leaves a large scar.
Endoscopic surgery is also becoming a common treatment option for Eagle syndrome. This involves inserting a small camera, called an endoscope, at the end of a long, thin tube through your mouth or other small opening. Specialized tools attached to the endoscope can perform surgery. Endoscopic surgery is much less invasive than traditional surgery, allowing for faster recovery and fewer risks.
If you have other conditions that make surgery risky, you can manage the symptoms of Eagle syndrome with several types of medication, including:
- Over-the-counter or prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
- antidepressants, especially tricyclic antidepressants
- local anesthetics
In rare cases, the long styloid process can put pressure on the internal carotid arteries on either side of your neck. This pressure may cause a stroke. Get immediate emergency care if suddenly experience any of these symptoms:
- loss of balance
- changes in vision
While Eagle syndrome is rare and poorly understood, it’s easily treated with surgery or medication. Most people make a full recovery with no remaining symptoms.