Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Bizarre case of mouth pain, with an explanation and a solution [Premium Post]

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of PainScience.com: a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Today I have a quick clinical story from my own recent experience with a strange, nasty mouth pain … and surprisingly obvious explanation, and easy solution.

Unfortunately, this was yet another case of my own strange problems with pain giving me exciting new ways to relate to my readers. This incident nuked a night of sleep, but there was a delightful ending despite that: a surprising diagnosis and a totally effective treatment.

But the ending is the first thing I’m going to share only with premium subscribers/members. The paywall is up.

Fortunately, the setup for that ending is quite interesting too. Clinicians, feel free to speculate: what on Earth do you think I found in my mouth? Comment on this post on Twitter or Facebook.

The setup: ominous throat soreness

My wife and I were binging Vikings, catching up with previous seasons before finally watching the long-delayed sixth season. While watching before bed, I noticed a bit of a sore throat, a bit of a “tickle.” In pandemic times, who isn’t a bit freaked out by that maybe-my-throat-is-sore feeling? The threat of COVID is significant even for the fully vaccinated, intimidating even when it doesn’t hospitalize, cripple, and kill. And breakthrough cases were always expected — the vaccines were built to blunt the symptoms, not to stop infection.

And two nights earlier I’d had dinner with someone in a crowded restaurant, indoors, for the first time since the pandemic started. So my immediate reaction to that weird throat feeling was a clear, “Uh oh.” This is exactly how it starts. (See ”What does getting Covid feel like for the fully vaccinated?” Three good case studies.)

I didn’t panic, because this is not my first rodeo, and it’s my not-so-new-normal for my body to shower me with bizarre symptoms (ever since 2015). Sadly, I’m used to this kind of thing.

But COVID was certainly on my mind as I went to bed.

The weirding: from sore throat to sore face

Even as my head hit the pillow, it started to seem more like my mouth hurt than my throat. The pain was starting to come into focus, dominating the right side of my soft palate. This is the main pain that I endured all night, and it was too far forward to be a classic sore throat. But I couldn’t imagine what else the problem could be, and it reached just far back enough to sustain the fear of a throat thing.

Painful swallowing woke me up each time I started to drift off. The fear of COVID was downgraded… and replaced by fear of a more ominous infection. Something mean, spreading fast.

My pain story is all about enduring a disturbing variety of aches and pains, and this was one of the worst on record: fast, fierce, and strange. By 5am I was a wreck from sleep loss and anxiety. My soft palate felt badly bruised. The whole right side of my face throbbed.

The surprising explanation and solution

I don’t know why I waited all night to look in my mouth. I should have done it sooner. I might have saved the night. Around dawn, when I did get a flashlight and take a look in the mirror, I was quite startled by what I found:

  • An obvious sign of the problem. A blatant, unmistakable, holy-crap-look-at-that sign.
  • And it was a sign that suggested an easy fix… which actually worked. The pain was completely gone less than a minute later, and it didn’t come back.

Premium newsletter subscribers are finding out right now, but this post maddeningly stops here. If you pay for a subscription on Tuesday, I’ll send you the full version of the post personally. (You can ask after that too, but I’ll do it automagically for Tuesday sign-ups.)