Eagle syndrome has nothing to do with the bird Eagle but is named so because of its discoverer Watt Weems Eagle, a doctor who specialized in ENT conditions. It’s a rare condition with a rare naming!
Eagle syndrome is a condition characterized by pain in the neck and face due to an elongated styloid process or calcified stylohyoid ligament. The styloid process is a small, pointed bone just below the ear. The stylohyoid ligament connects it to the hyoid bone in your neck. The pain is also a nerve pain caused due to unusual nerve signals but without any damage to the pain-related area.
Eagle syndrome is classified as a rare disease because only 4% of the population has an unusually long styloid bone, according to the Genetic & Rare Disease Information Center (GARD). Among these people, it is only about 4-10% of the population who experience any symptoms. GARD also mentions that Eagle syndrome is common more among women than men, almost thrice as common in women than men.
The main symptom involves a throbbing pain on one side of your neck or face, specifically near the jaw. The pain might come every now and then or might even stay throughout. Many people have the unusually long styloid bone but suffer from no symptoms. When symptoms occur, it includes any of these:
Eagle syndrome is usually caused due to 2 reasons-either due to an unusually long styloid process or due to a calcified stylohyoid ligament. Striking both the male and female population, it is mostly women aged between 40 and 60 years of age who are more commonly affected. Sometimes, having your tonsils removed can lead to the development of scar tissues in and around the throat. This pressurizes the surrounding nerves leading to pain and buzzing sound in the ears.
There are two types of possible clinical expressions of Eagle syndrome:
Diagnosing Eagle syndrome is difficult as the symptoms present are similar to many other conditions as well. The doctor might feel your neck and head regions for any sign of unusually long styloid process or even suggest for a CT scan or X-ray to get the exact situation clearly. Rarely, the doctor might be able to feel an unusually long styloid process pushing into the throat. Before diagnosing the condition as Eagle syndrome, it is essential that the doctor rules out all other possible causes of pain such as tooth pain radiating to the neck, any problem with nearby blood vessels, ear infection, jaw injuries or herniated discs.
Surgery is the main treatment offered for Eagle syndrome wherein the styloid process is shortened. The procedure is called as styloidectomy and can be performed via the mouth or neck. If the operation is done through the mouth, the surgeon will remove the tonsils to access your styloid process and when done through the neck, the surgery leaves a large scar and can also affect the surrounding nerves of the face. Doctors are also increasingly practising endoscopic surgery which involves sending down a tube attached with a camera through the patient’s mouth. Tools attached to this endoscope perform the surgery and this is a less-invasive procedure.
Any surgery carries some portion of risk along with it and some people might prefer to choose alternative strategies to manage pain. Such strategies include pain medication, steroid injections and alternative medicines. This is a nerve pain and not an injury which reminds us that exercise, massage or other techniques prove to be unsuccessful. More than 80% of people who seek treatment get relief irrespective of the type of treatment received. Living with pain can push a person into depression, anxiety and relationship problems and Eagle syndrome can make eating, talking or even moving your head painful. It is recommended to seek treatment and find relief as soon as possible.
Dietitian Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.