Rare nerve disorder causes severe facial pain

 Lee Shanks has many ways to describe the pain in her face erupting from the rare disorder trigeminal neuralgia, sometimes described as “suicide disease.”

On one side of her face, Shanks gets a “lightning-stroke pain over my right eye,” she said.

“On my left side, I can go anywhere from someone driving a knitting needle though my ear, to driving spikes into my teeth, to holding a burning cigarette against my eyeball, or slicing my tongue,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Shawnigan Lake.

The 49-year-old former journalist also talks of pick-axes and hammers to the forehead, razor blades and barbed wire in the mouth and a constant burning on the face.

“I never know how it is going to manifest itself on any given day,” she said. “It’s very unpredictable.”

On Oct. 7, people around the world will be wearing teal-coloured ribbons for the first Trigeminal Neuralgia Awareness Day. Also, monuments around the world will be flashing teal.

B.C. Place will be showing teal in its Northern Lights Roof Display. In other parts of Canada, the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, N.Y., and Fort Erie, Ont., and even Niagara Falls will be lighting up with teal lights in recognition of the little-known disorder.

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN or TGN) is a nerve disorder originating with the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensations in the face, and muscular movements such as chewing and biting.

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