How a blast of oxygen could banish your migraine pain | Sunday Observer

How a blast of oxygen could banish your migraine pain

23 April, 2023

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’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.

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 percent 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. - Daily