A lightning-like pain caused by inflammation of the fifth cranial nerve is called trigeminal neuralgia, according to the Mayo Clinic. Because this nerve, known as the trigeminal nerve, carries sensation to the brain, even the slightest stimulation when this condition exists may cause a searing, excruciating pain.
The trigeminal nerve innervates the cheeks, forehead and jaw after it leaves the brain, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. It is a mixed sensory and motor nerve that carries sensations of touch, temperature and pain. It also helps with chewing and biting.
Symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia vary as to duration and severity. At first, the pain may be described as brief periods of burning or shooting pain, according to the Mayo Clinic, but with time, the episodes may last longer and the pain may intensify. An episode is sometimes elicited by brushing the skin on the face or a cold sensation. Common routines such as shaving or putting on makeup can also trigger the nerve. Chewing is also able to set off an attack.
This inflammation may be caused by conditions such as multiple sclerosis, arterial malformation or swelling that presses on the nerve, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. It can also come from a viral infection that involved the nerve. An MRI is used to evaluate trigeminal neuralgia. Medications to control the pain or reduce inflammation may be prescribed. In severe cases, radiation or nerve elimination procedures can be used.