If you suffer from cluster headaches, you’ll probably know just how debilitating the condition can be.
Described by The Migraine Trust as “one of the most painful conditions known to mankind” – the pain generally feels like an intense burning or stabbing sensation that appears around the eye or in the head and is followed by swelling, red eyes, tears and nasal congestion.
While doctors say the condition isn’t life-threatening, the headaches – which affect around one in 500 people in the UK – can lead to depression and sometimes even suicide.
The pain cannot be treated with over-the-counter painkillers – because they are too slow to take effect. The condition requires specialist treatments that include sumatriptan injections, nasal spray or oxygen therapy – but these have limited effectiveness.
But there’s a new gadget that could offer hope to sufferers.
Called Pulsante, the device is a tiny implant that acts as a nerve stimulator and comes with an external controller.
But here’s the tricky part – the almond-sized microstimulator has to be inserted into the inside of the cheek through a small incision in the upper gum and positioned at the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) nerve bundle.
Once in place, the implant is not visible and can be activated by placing the remote controller on the cheek (over the implanted device) until the pain settles.
Pulsante works by targeting the SPG nerve bundle – a group of nerve cells linked to the trigeminal nerve that is responsible for causing headaches.
The device contains six electrodes which make contact with the SPG nerves when activated by the controller.
When the pain subsides, the patient simply removes the controller away from the cheek to turn off stimulation therapy.
Nearly 68% of patients taking part in the Pulsante trial had a greater than 50% improvement in pain relief and experienced greater than 50% reduction in attack frequency.
And 67% of patients treated experienced pain relief within 15 minutes, compared to 7.4% of those given a placebo.
Tests also found the average number of weekly cluster attacks dropped by a third.
The therapy is being trialled at Walton Centre specialist neurology hospital in Liverpool and some medical centres in the US.