Eagle Syndrome

What is Eagle Syndrome?

Eagle syndrome is also called by many other names like stylohyoid syndrome, styloid-carotid artery syndrome, styloid syndrome and styloid-stylohyoid syndrome. The common name “Eagle syndrome” derives from the fact that it was discovered in 1937 by a doctor from Duke University named Watt Weems Eagle. The cause of symptoms is a problem in a throat ligament called the styloid ligament or a bone at the base of the skull below the ear called the styloid process that grows too long.

Just why problems with the styloid ligament or the styloid process happens to some people and not everyone is unknown. It is known that there are two ways these irregular happenings in the body occur – by being born with it or suddenly developing it in later life after injuries or other medical problems with the neck or mouth like having a tonsillectomy. For an unknown reason, women are more likely to develop Eagle syndrome than men.

What are the Symptoms of Eagle Syndrome?

Patients feel a sudden sharp series of pains in the throat, jaw, tongue or under the ears. Pain can spread to the front of the face and up into the head. Sharp pains may come and go but there is often a constant dull ache in the head, mouth or throat. Many patients also feel as if there is some food caught in their throat even when there is nothing in their throats. Pain gets worse when trying to eat.

Other common symptoms include problems swallowing, hearing a constant strange buzz or ringing in the ears and uncontrollable drooling.

These symptoms can also occur in potentially deadly conditions such as tumors or a stroke, therefore,  it is important not to ignore any of them.

Eagle Syndrome Causes

Eagle syndrome is a very rare disorder occurring as a result of an elongation of the body’s styloid process or potentially a calcification of what is known as the stylohyoid ligament. These changes cause pains as a result of the pressure that is exerted on several structures in the neck and head. Doctors will often use imaging tech to help identify a strangely elongated styloid process or calcified ligament.

The styloid process is a peaked portion of the temporal bone that functions as an anchor point for a group of muscles working with the larynx and tongue. Technically eagle syndrome is made up of an aggregate of symptoms that are caused by the elongation of the ossified styloid process, but yet again the cause remains unclear.

Eagle Syndrome is rare and often goes undetected without the application of radiographic studies. Around 4% of the population suffers from an elongated styloid process, and of those individuals, around 4% will develop the symptoms recognized in Eagle syndrome. As a result, the incidence of Eagle syndrome may be about 0.16%. Patients with Eagle Syndrome are typically between 30 and 50 years old of age but the syndrome has been recorded in teens and in patients over 75 years old. Eagle Syndrome is more common among women with many experiencing shooting pains in the jaw, the rear of the throat, the bottom of the tongue, neck, ears, and-or face.

How is Eagle Syndrome Treated?

After getting a positive diagnosis with X-rays, a physical exam and possibly other diagnostic tests, the usual way to treat Eagle syndrome is with surgery on the neck. It is possible for Eagle syndrome to come back, even after having surgery.

Eagle Syndrome Prevention

Currently, imaging is the most important and diagnostic tool for targeting and preventing the suffering of Eagle syndrome. By visualizing the styloid process using CT scans along with 3D reconstruction doctors can target surgical treatments and bring relief to those suffering from Eagle Syndrome. Doctors will also work to repair a damaged carotid artery in order to prevent more neurological complication.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
December 18, 2017
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