Eagle syndrome refers to a condition characterized by pain in the mouth, throat, head, neck and face. The pain is caused by calcification and hardening of a ligament that connects a pointed piece of bone in the lower part of the skull called the styloid process to the hyoid bone in the neck.
History and discovery of Eagle syndrome
The condition is named after an ear, nose and throat specialist called Watt Weems Eagle (Duke University in North Carolina, USA) who first described it in 1937. Another term used to describe the condition is stylohyoid syndrome.
Causes of Eagle syndrome
The condition typically occurs after an injury or trauma to the neck or pharynx or after an operation involving the neck area such as tonsillectomy. Scar tissues near the tonsillectomy incision is thought to compress and stretch the nearby blood vessels and nerves in the retrostyloid compartment and affect the glossopharyngeal nerve and perivascular carotid sympathetic fibres.
Symptoms of Eagle syndrome
Manifestations of Eagle syndrome include:
A nagging or dull pain in the throat, head, neck and face
Pain persisting for long durations over days, weeks or even months
Pain in the ear on the same side as the pain in the head, neck, face
Sensation of something stuck in the throat
Pain on swallowing or odynophagia
Hoarseness of voice or dysphonia
Excessive salivation or drooling
Diagnosis is most commonly made using imaging studies such as X-ray, CT or MRI scan that may reveal calcification of the stylohyoid ligament. Treatment mainly involves the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain. This is usually successful in treating most patients and there is little risk of recurrence. In severe recurrent cases, the styloid process may be surgically removed.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc