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What is Eagle Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What is Eagle Syndrome?

Eagle Syndrome is a rare medical condition characterized by a dull ache and pain in the throat and the face. This pain is caused due to an abnormally long styloid process bone. This bone is present just beneath the ear. People with Eagle Syndrome tend to have pain that more or less resembles a nerve type pain signifying that there is no damage done to the affected area as such and it is the faulty nerve signals that is causing the pain. Eagle Syndrome causes a feeling that something is stuck in the throat. There may also be ringing in the ears felt by some people along with pain in the neck [2].

Studies suggest that approximately 4% of people have an abnormally long styloid process bone and among those only 10% actually have the symptoms. This speaks about the rarity of Eagle Syndrome. Studies also suggest that Eagle Syndrome is seen more in females than in males with an approximate ratio of 1:3 in favor of females. The symptoms become evident after the age of 30. The severity of the symptoms ranges from mild to moderate where some component of pain is neurologic while other is referred pain [1].

What is Eagle Syndrome?

What Causes Eagle Syndrome?

As stated, the primary cause of Eagle Syndrome is an abnormally large styloid process bone. This bone is located beneath the ear. The length of this bone gets elongated usually after a trauma or injury to the throat. In some cases, this occurs after a throat surgery. In many instances, it is just the anatomy of the throat that changes with age [2].

The elongated styloid process bone puts pressure on the adjoining nerves and vessels causing pain as felt in people with Eagle Syndrome. Some of the other causes for this condition include [2]

Tonsillectomy: Many a times, after getting the tonsils out there is formation of scar tissue around the throat. This scar tissue then puts pressure on the nerves and vessels causing the pain seen with Eagle Syndrome along with tinnitus.

Calcified Stylohyoid Ligament: In some instances, the stylohyoid ligament which connects to the styloid process gets calcified. Generally, it is asymptomatic but if symptoms do develop they are similar to that seen with Eagle Syndrome [2].

What are the Symptoms of Eagle Syndrome?

Many people may have an abnormally long styloid process bone but do not have any symptoms. However, if symptoms do develop, the patient will have problems with swallowing solids and liquids. They will feel as if something is stuck in the throat. There is radiating pain from the throat to the jaw and ear. The tongue base also becomes quite painful [2].

Some people experience pain when turning the body to one side usually while sleeping as a result of Eagle Syndrome. Persistent ringing in the ears is also seen in people with this condition along with frequent bouts of headaches and pain in the jaw [2].

How is Eagle Syndrome Treated?

Surgery to make the styloid process short is the primary mode of treatment for Eagle Syndrome. The name of the surgery is styloidectomy and is done through the neck or the mouth. If the surgeon uses he mouth to shorten the styloid process bone then the tonsils will have to be removed first and it is quite difficult to gain access to the bone. The likelihood of injury or damage or injury to the surrounding structures is also quite high with this approach [2].

The approach through the neck offers better access to the styloid process even though scar formation is quite common with this approach. As of recent, physicians have started using the endoscopic approach in which a tube with a camera is inserted to access the styloid process. Once a surgery is completed then majority of the cases there is complete resolution of the symptoms [2].

However, as is inherent to any surgical procedure, there are certain risks associated with surgery to treat Eagle Syndrome. Thus it is best to analyze all these risks with the surgeon and weigh all options thoroughly before deciding on going forward with surgery to treat this condition [2].

In case if surgery is not beneficial then other modes of treatments include pain medications in the form of ibuprofen or Tylenol. Some people find relief with tapered doses of steroid injections. There have also been instances where people have found relief of the symptoms of Eagle Syndrome by way of adopting alternative medicine and herbs. Since Eagle Syndrome causes pain that is more nerve related and there is actually no damage done to the throat, massage and exercises are not bound to help this condition [2].

Coming to the prognosis of Eagle Syndrome, with treatment especially surgery, people get complete relief from their symptoms. In people who do not undergo surgery, there is a high likelihood of getting only partial relief from the symptoms of Eagle Syndrome. Approximately 90% of people who undergo endoscopic surgery for Eagle Syndrome get complete relief from their symptoms [2].

If an individual with Eagle Syndrome does not wish to undergo surgical treatment or is not deemed to be a candidate then the pain tends to become more chronic in nature. Medications in such cases may not completely relieve the symptoms of Eagle Syndrome [2].

What needs to be known here is that Eagle Syndrome is a relatively benign condition and is not responsible for any other illness. Although, there have been rare instances where pain has spread to areas like the jaw and the neck due to the elongated styloid process bone. It is best to get Eagle Syndrome treated as not treating it may lead to pain related anxiety and depression which can interfere with the normal life of the person [2].


Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 2, 2019

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