The greater auricular nerve serves the lower part of your ear, lower face and upper neck. You have one of these nerves and its branches on each side of your head. It is a sensory nerve and signals your brain to report what you feel in that area. If you’ve had an earlobe pierced, the greater auricular nerve is the one that reported the pain. This nerve is not involved with making muscles move. Damage to this nerve causes numbness and tingling in the area it serves. This can be temporary or permanent depending on the severity of the injury.
This nerve can be injured if you suffer a blow to the side of the head or if pressure is applied for an extended period of time. Pressure injury to the nerve has been reported when a particular type of head restraint is used in shoulder surgery, as described by Albert K. H. Ng and Richard S. Page in the “International Journal of Shoulder Surgery” in 2010. In these cases, the symptoms can persist for up to several months, but is not permanent. Newer head restraint devices prevent this problem. If you require shoulder surgery, it is reasonable to request that the new device be used to avoid this potential problem.
Any swelling or growth from within that puts pressure on the nerve can produce numbness and tingling in the area served by the greater auricular nerve. If you have continuing symptoms or recurring symptoms, whether or not you believe you know the reason, it is important to consult your physician. If you have symptoms and have had any procedure done in that area, be sure to report the problem to your physician or dentist.
Any facial surgery or vein surgery in the face or neck can damage your greater auricular nerve. This includes plastic surgery procedures such as face lifts. The swelling after the operation can cause a temporary problem with tingling and numbness and if the nerve is severed, numbness can be permanent. In neck artery surgery, this is a fairly common complication and often cannot be avoided. This is also true in cancer and benign tumor surgery where the important goal is to remove the tumor. In procedures where this is considered a possible or probable outcome, you should be informed before the surgery. Permanent numbness requires adjustment, especially at first, but according to the book “Clinical Practice of Neurological & Neurosurgical Nursing,” most patients tolerate it well.
- “International Journal of Shoulder Surgery”; Greater auricular nerve neuropraxia with beach chair positioning during shoulder surgery; Ng and Page; April, 2010
- "Clinical Practice of Neurological & Neurosurgical Nursing (5th Edition)"; Joanne V. Hickey; 2002
- "Essentials of Otolaryngology (5th Edition)"; Frank E. Lucente, Gady Har-El; 2004
- "Anatomica’s Body Atlas"; Janet Parker; 2002