Occipital Neuritis

Dealing with Occipital Neuritis

Occipital neuritis can literally be a pain in the neck.  The occipital nerves are one grouping of nerves that connects the spinal cord to the brain.  Theses nerves pass up from the neck behind the cheekbones and eyes.  When you have an inflammation of these nerves, a series of problems can occur.

Symptoms of Occipital Neuritis

A neuritis is an inflammation of a nerve.  Thus, occipital neuritis is the inflammation of the occipital nerves.  The symptoms for this condition are very similar to those for general disease related problems with occipital nerve disease (occipital neuralgia).  Typically, a person suffering from this symptom will experience intense pain that starts at the neck and rises along the side of the face, sometimes just on one side, and other times on both.  Because the occipital nerves rise all the way to the brain, often the person will have pain or sensitivity at the hairline as well.  Face movements and grooming can become painful when this occurs.

Because of the location of the nerves just behind the eyes, the pains will often feel as if they are localized just behind the optical nerves.  Vision may also be effected during attacks.  Sufferers may have difficulty focusing and may find that light is too intense for them to read computer screens or make out objects distinctly.  Patients may mistakenly believe they are suffering from migraines.

Causes of Occipital Neuritis

Because occipital neuritis is not a disease in itself, but the symptom of an underlying condition, the discovery of the symptom is not a final diagnosis but only the beginning of the investigation.  In addition, because this condition involves nerves it should not go untreated either.

One of the main causes of this kind of neuritis is physical trauma, like whiplash.  Often people who have been rear-ended begin to feel the symptoms a day or two after the crash.  Athletes in violent contact sports like football and hockey may also experience extreme trauma when tackling or being struck by the ball in the head.  This is why protective equipment is paramount in such sports.

Physical trauma is only one cause of occipital neuritis.  Inflammation (say after a surgery or illness) may also cause the same symptoms.  Neuritis and the associated pain may also indicate a deeper underlying condition like gout, diabetes, or tumors.  Put simply, discovering the cause of occipital neuritis is vital as the patient’s life may literally be in danger.

Doctors will typically inject the patient’s occipital nerve to see if they can relieve the pain.  If the injection succeeds, this is a good indication of occipital nerve damage.  Typically, women are more likely to suffer this condition than men, because of the higher propensity that women have to immune system related diseases, which can be a cause for this condition.


Once the physician determines that the symptom the patient is experiencing is actually occipital neuritis, then the physician will order further tests in order to determine the cause.  The recommended course of treatment will depend on the underlying cause.  The doctor may prescribe a painkiller to relieve the sufferer’s discomfort, while tests are being administered.


Treatments can range from simply having the patient take a course of antibiotics to battle the underlying infection to surgically removing the cause of inflammation.  Of course, there is no such thing as a simple surgery when you are discussing the nerves surrounding the brain, however, in most cases if the condition is caught early, the patient can go on with their normal lives without too much inconvenience.

Sometimes patients discover that the pain is actually not related to the occipital nerves but stems from some other underlying cause.  Regardless, anytime someone feels debilitating pain, he or she should have it checked out by a physician.