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Chronic Paroxysmal Hemicrania Presenting as Otalgia With a Sensation of External Acoustic Meatus Obstruction: Two Cases and a Pathophysiologic Hypothesis

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Objective.—To describe two cases of chronic paroxysmal hemicrania manifested by otalgia with a sensation of external acoustic meatus obstruction and to suggest that the trigeminal-autonomic reflex is a mechanism for the sensation of ear blockage.

Background.—Maximum pain in chronic paroxysmal hemicrania is most often in the ocular, temporal, maxillary, and frontal regions. It is less often located in the nuchal, occipital, and retro-orbital areas. Review of the literature on chronic paroxysmal hemicrania found no reports of pain primarily localized to the ear and associated with a sensation of external acoustic meatus obstruction.

Methods.—The history, physical examination, imaging studies, and successful treatment plan in two patients with otalgia and ear fullness and a subsequent diagnosis of chronic paroxysmal hemicrania are summarized.

Results.—The first patient was a 42-year-old woman with a 10-year history of unilateral, severe, paroxysmal otalgia occurring five times a day with a duration of 2 to 60 minutes. During an attack, the ear became erythematous and the external acoustic meatus felt obstructed. There were no other associated autonomic signs. The second patient was a 49-year-old woman with a 3-year history of unilateral, severe, paroxysmal otalgia occurring 4 to 15 times a day with a duration of 3 to 10 minutes. During an attack, her ear felt obstructed, and she noted ipsilateral eyelid edema and ptosis. Both patients quickly became pain-free after taking indomethacin and required its continued use to prevent headache recurrence.

Conclusions.—Chronic paroxysmal hemicrania may be manifested by otalgia with a sensation of external ear obstruction. When the otalgia is paroxysmal, unilateral, severe, frequent, and associated with autonomic signs, one should consider the diagnosis of chronic paroxysmal hemicrania, especially because of the prompt response to indomethacin. The most important feature to consider when making the diagnosis of chronic paroxysmal hemicrania is the frequent periodicity of discrete, brief attacks of unilateral cephalgia separated by pain-free intervals. It is hypothesized that the sensation of ear obstruction in these patients is due to swelling of the external acoustic meatus mediated through increased blood flow by the trigeminal-autonomic reflex.
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Keywords: chronic paroxysmal hemicrania; external acoustic meatus; otalgia; pathophysiology; trigeminal-autonomic reflex

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: From the Department of Neurology, Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation, Rochester, Minn.

Publication date: November 1, 1998

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