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Snorting Carbon Dioxide May Relieve Migraines

Nearly 1/3 of Sufferers Pain-Free Within 2 Hours
WebMD Health News

Sept. 27, 2005 (San Diego) -- Snorting carbon dioxide may help to relieve the throbbing pain of migraine headaches.

In a new study of 77 migraine sufferers, 30% who sniffed carbon dioxide were pain-free two hours later, compared with only 9% of the 75 people given a placebo.

"The amount of relief provided by the carbon dioxide is very similar to what you get with the potent oral migraine drugs usually prescribed to migraine patients," says researcher Egilius Spierings, MD, PhD, an associate clinical professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

And unlike some migraine drugs that can cause side effects, such as dizziness and low blood pressure, the carbon dioxide appears to be extremely safe, he tells WebMD.

The main side effects were nasal irritation, reported by 31% of participants, and watery eyes, experienced by 8% of the people who took carbon dioxide.

Best for Mild to Moderate Migraines

Reporting at the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association here, Spierings says a 3-inch cylindrical device that resembles a large pen sends pressurized carbon dioxide up one nostril and out the other.

As soon as a person feels a migraine coming on, she should place the device into one nostril, while holding her breath for about a minute, he says.

If one administration doesn't work, the migraine sufferer can safely repeat the process five or 10 minutes later.

The carbon dioxide device appears to work best for those who suffer from mild to moderate migraines, Spierings notes. People with more severe migraines may not get the same degree of benefit.

Though the study was not designed to show how the carbon dioxide works, Spierings says lab studies suggest that the gas increases acid levels of the nerve fibers in the nose. This in turn lowers the activity of the so-called trigeminal nerve fibers -- "the same fibers that transmit migraine pain from the head to the brain," he says.

Other Researchers Enthused

John Clause Krusz, MD, PhD, medical director of Anodyne Headache and PainCare in Dallas, says the work is "tremendous. The treatment is so benign and offers relief after just two hours."

The only question, Krusz tells WebMD, is whether the device offers long-term relief or if headaches return the next day.

Spierings says his team plans longer and larger studies next year that will help address that question.

The device, which is not yet on the market, is being developed by Capnia Corp. of Mountainview, Calif. Spierings serves as its medical director.

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