A new trial is looking into claims that a puff of air into the ear could help treat migraines.
While approximately one in 10 people in the UK suffer from migraines, with symptoms including severe headaches, nausea and/or vomiting, and fatigue, the cause of the condition is largely unknown.
Various theories about what causes a migraine have emerged over the years, with one guess suggesting it could be down to the blood vessels in the brain widening.
Another idea is that a migraine is caused by brain cells activating the face’s trigeminal nerve – causing a release of chemicals which then causes blood vessels on the brain’s surface to swell.
These swollen vessels then increases the pain signals that reach the brain, with new some new therapies for migraines designed to stop these signals in their tracks.
However, it seems the puff of air into the ear – known as modulated air insufflation of the ear canal – could be one of the most promising developments in migraine treatment. This is because the eardrum allows access to the trigeminal nerve and can therefore stop the pain signals reaching the brain.
The device used to deliver the air is called a pneumatic otoscope, which is similar to those used by GPs to measure the amount of fluid behind the eardrum.
However, while doctors only use the otoscope for a tiny puff of air, the new treatment sees a constant stream of air puffed into the ear for up to 20 minutes.
The new trial is being undertaken by the Carrick Institute in Arizona, where scientists will use the device on 25 migraine sufferers who will receive a single session during an attack. These patients will then gauge the severity of their symptoms both before and after the air treatment.
“The mechanism of the proposed treatment is likely to work via stimulation of the nerves in the ear canal and to the ear drum,” Dr Andy Dowson, chairman of the charity Migraine Action’s medical advisory board, said of the trial.
“In migraines, the brain is oversensitive and easily stimulated by messages from the sensory nervous system. This technique would effectively reset the signals.
“It will be very interesting to see how studies go.”
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