Geniculate neuralgia: the surgical management of primary otalgia

J Neurosurg. 1991 Oct;75(4):505-11. doi: 10.3171/jns.1991.75.4.0505.


Intractable, unexplained deep-ear pain presents a rare, albeit significant problem in otolaryngological and neurosurgical practice. The authors review their experience with 18 cases of primary otalgia during the past 15 years. A total of 31 surgical procedures were performed. Seventeen patients had sequential rhizotomies and one patient had microvascular decompression alone. Based on the clinical diagnosis, the nerves sectioned were singly or in combination: the nervus intermedius (14 patients), geniculate ganglion (10 patients), ninth nerve (14 patients), 10th nerve (11 patients), tympanic nerve (four patients), and chorda tympani nerve (one patient). Microvascular decompression of the involved nerves was undertaken in nine patients, in whom vascular loops were discovered. Adhesions (six patients), thickened arachnoid (three patients), and benign osteoma (one patient) were other intraoperative abnormalities noted. The overall success of these procedures in providing pain relief was 72.2%, and the mean follow-up period was 3.3 years (range 1 month to 14.5 years). There was no surgical mortality. Expected side effects were: decreased lacrimation, salivation, and taste related to nervus intermedius nerve section, and transient hoarseness and diminished gag related to ninth and 10th nerve section. Four patients developed sequelae consisting of sensorineural hearing loss, vertigo, and transient facial nerve paresis. One patient had a cerebrospinal fluid leak and another developed aseptic meningitis as postoperative complications. Except when primary glossopharyngeal neuralgia is the working diagnosis, a combined posterior cranial fossa-middle cranial fossa approach is recommended for adequate exploration and/or section of the fifth, ninth, and 10th cranial nerves as well as the geniculate ganglion and nervus intermedius.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Earache / surgery*
  • Facial Nerve / surgery
  • Facial Neuralgia / surgery*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Geniculate Ganglion / surgery*
  • Glossopharyngeal Nerve / surgery
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuralgia / diagnosis
  • Neuralgia / surgery
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Reoperation