A face mask that delivers blasts of oxygen could help treat migraines.
The device, which is worn as soon as symptoms start, is thought to work by reducing inflammation in nerve cells that cause pain. It is now being tested in a trial of 160 patients.
Migraines affect around ten million people in Britain, and cause attacks of painful headaches that can be accompanied by nausea, disturbed vision and sensitivity to light, sound and smells.
The exact cause of these attacks is not fully understood. One theory is that it’s the result of brain cells activating the trigeminal nerve, one of the main nerves in the face, which then relays pain signals back to the brain.
This causes the release of chemicals that irritate blood vessels on the surface of the brain and cause them to swell, which activates additional pain signals.
There is some evidence that the oxygen reduces inflammation and activity in nerve cells linked to cluster headaches — and a similar mechanism has been proposed for migraine relief (file image)
Migraines affect around ten million people in Britain, and cause attacks of painful headaches that can be accompanied by nausea, disturbed vision and sensitivity to light, sound and smells (file image)
There’s no cure for migraine — the main treatments are painkillers and drugs called triptans, which work by lowering inflammation and narrowing blood vessels in the head, reducing pain.
However, these don’t always work and triptans can have side-effects such as nausea, dry mouth and drowsiness.
Oxygen therapy is already used in the treatment of cluster headaches — severe attacks of pain in one side of the head, often felt around the eye, which affect one in 1,000 people.
Could garlic ease symptoms of migraine?
In a new study by Curtin University in Australia, 240 sufferers will be given a combination of L-arginine (an amino acid involved in blood pressure regulation) and aged garlic, or placebo pills, daily for 12 weeks.
(Aged garlic is immersed in liquid for up to 20 months and is said to increase levels of beneficialantioxidant compounds.)
It’s based on the idea that the combination of supplements will benefit blood flow to the brain.
In this case, patients are given cylinders of oxygen to use at home and on-the-go; they are attached to a face mask and activated at the first signs of a painful attack.
There is some evidence that the oxygen reduces inflammation and activity in nerve cells linked to cluster headaches — and a similar mechanism has been proposed for migraine relief.
The new migraine trial follows an earlier study by Massachusetts General Hospital, on 22 patients, where oxygen devices were four times as effective as a placebo (filled with air) at easing pain.
Relief of nausea was also higher in the oxygen group — 42 per cent compared to 23 per cent — and there was a greater improvement in visual symptoms — 36 per cent versus 7 per cent, reported the journal Cephalalgia.
Now, 160 migraine sufferers who seek help in A&E at Ankara Research Hospital in Turkey will be offered standard anti-inflammatory painkillers at the first sign of an attack — and half will also be given oxygen therapy, via a mask delivering 10 litres of oxygen per minute.
They will breathe in the oxygen for up to one hour, and pain levels before and after will be compared in the two groups.
Dr Andrew Dowson, clinical lead at NHS East Kent and Bromley Headache Services, said: ‘It is always good to see more research into migraine especially with treatment options that are unlikely to cause bad side-effects.
‘The evidence for use of oxygen in cluster headache is clinically uncontroversial and is included in the NICE guidelines.
‘Oxygen has been suggested as a possible treatment for migraine, and if the new study is positive we will need to assess how strong the evidence is and balance that with the logistical issues of delivering home oxygen for patients.’
Did you know?
Eating high-fat, sugary foods may rewire our brain, making us crave more of them, a study by Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Germany found.
A box of doughnuts. Eating high-fat, sugary foods may rewire our brain, making us crave more of them, research has found (file image)
Researchers measured brain activity in a group given a high-fat, high-sugar pudding daily for eight weeks, compared with another group who received a pudding that contained the same calories but less fat and sugar.
They found the sugary pudding group had an activated dopaminergic system (responsible for motivation and reward) in response to these foods, so they craved more of them in future.