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Background

There is a body of opinion in the clinical literature advocating the removal of intranasal contact points to treat facial pain.

Objectives

To review the evidence that intranasal mucosal contact points cause facial pain or headache and their removal is therapeutic.

Type of review

Systematic review.

Search strategy

A systematic search of the available literature was performed using MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane library and NHS Evidence from inception to September 2011. Terms used include facial pain and contact point (3628), rhinologic headache (6) contact point and surgery/endoscopy (38).

Evaluation method

Inclusion criteria applied. Assessment of papers were undertaken by one reviewer and checked by the second. A narrative review of each study was performed and results recorded in tables.

Results

In one study, 973 consecutive patients with a provisional diagnosis of rhinosinusitis were divided into groups with (42%) and without facial pain. There was a 4% prevalence of nasal contact in both groups, which was unrelated to the presence of facial pain. In another study of 100 patient's coronal paranasal sinus CT scans, 29% had headache and 55% had a contact point but their presence was inversely related to the presence of pain.1 In a further study, ten healthy volunteers had palpation, adrenaline, substance P and placebo applied to different areas throughout the nasal cavity and none of these stimuli caused facial pain. Nineteen studies were identified where nasal mucosal contact points had been removed surgically for the treatment of facial pain. They were small case series, not randomised and subject to selection bias, had no control group, a limited follow-up and were open to observer bias with level IV evidence. Seven studies had a statistically significant improvement in pain postoperatively compared with preoperative questionnaire results but the majority had residual facial pain.

Conclusion

The majority of people with contact points experience no facial pain. The presence of a contact point is not a good predictor of facial pain. The removal of a contact point rarely results in the total elimination of facial pain making the theory that a contact point is responsible unlikely. The improvement in postoperative symptoms following the removal of contact points in some patients may be explained by cognitive dissonance or neuroplasticity. A randomised, controlled and blinded trial with a followed up period of over 12 months is needed to assess the place of surgery in the removal of a contact point for the treatment of facial pain.