First Bite Syndrome: a little known complication of upper cervical surgery

Eur Ann Otorhinolaryngol Head Neck Dis. 2013 Jun;130(3):123-9. doi: 10.1016/j.anorl.2012.08.001. Epub 2013 Mar 7.


Introduction: First Bite Syndrome (FBS) is a rare pain syndrome sometimes occurring after surgery of the upper cervical region. It presents as excruciating pain, triggered at the beginning of a meal by chewing, swallowing or even simple contact with generally acidic food, waning on subsequent bites and recurring with identical features after pausing for several minutes or at the next meal.

Objectives: Retrospective review of 17 patients who developed FBS after upper cervical surgery.

Results: Seventeen patients developed FBS between 1999 and 2010 following surgery for paraganglioma in eight cases, vagal or sympathetic schwannoma in five cases (including one malignant tumour), pleiomorphic adenoma in three cases and Warthin's tumour of the deep lobe of the parotid in one case. The cervical sympathetic trunk was sacrificed in 10 cases and the external carotid artery was ligated in six cases. Horner's sign was observed postoperatively in 12 patients. The characteristic pain of FBS was triggered by chewing or simple contact with essentially acidic food.

Conclusion: FBS must be identified by the head and neck surgeon and distinguished from the usual postoperative pain. The generally accepted hypothesis is that of sympathetic denervation with parasympathetic secretory hyperactivity, but Horner's sign was present in only 12 of the 17 patients of our series, suggesting that other pathogenic mechanisms may be involved. FBS is difficult to treat, but the pain gradually becomes less severe. The patient must be informed about this rare complication that can impact on postoperative quality of life.

MeSH terms

  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / complications
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Horner Syndrome / etiology
  • Humans
  • Mastication*
  • Muscle Cramp / etiology*
  • Muscle Cramp / therapy
  • Neck Dissection / adverse effects*
  • Pain, Postoperative / etiology*
  • Pain, Postoperative / therapy
  • Parathyroid Neoplasms / surgery
  • Peripheral Nervous System Neoplasms / complications
  • Peripheral Nervous System Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Quality of Life
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Syndrome
  • Treatment Outcome