Currents Pumped Through Headphones Could Mean Migraine Relief


Cool and warm currents pumped through headphones to the ear canal could be an effective migraine prevention tool in the near future.

Led by David Wilkinson at the University of Kent, volunteers participated in a migraine study using caloric vestibular stimulation (CVS). By stimulating balance organs, CVS is thought to change brainstem activity, which is linked to migraine onset. The study’s objective was to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a novel CVS device in order to provide therapy for the prevention of episodic migraines in adults.

Credit: Gonzalo Malpartida/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

“Subjects showed immediate and continued steady declines in migraine frequency over the treatment period,” the study concluded. “After three months of treatment, subjects exhibited significantly fewer migraine days.”

The study, carried out through the US and UK, included 81 volunteers who reported experiencing between four and 14 migraines a month. The volunteers were able to self-administer CVS for 20 minutes a day for three months.

In CVS, thermal currents are distributed via aluminum earpieces that have padded headphones and are controlled by a handheld device. The active treatment group experienced a reduction of migraine days by 3.6 days per month, compared to the placebo group at 0.9 days.

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In addition to reducing migraine days, headache pain and the need for migraine medications were also lowered. There were no adverse effects on mood, cognition or balance reported by the volunteers.

The study stated that most participants completed the trial with an average rate of 90 percent treatment adherence and that no serious or unexpected adverse events were recorded.  

Migraines can cause significant disability in almost 12 percent of the world’s population and there are no current migraine preventative treatments that provide full clinical relief, the study states. Wilkinson said in a press release that the study’s results could mean that CVS “may address the existing need for new preventative therapies for episodic migraine.”

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The study findings were presented at an annual American Headache Society meeting in June. An expanded study is planned for the future and will see another collaboration between the University of Kent and Scion NeuroStim, the medical device company that created the CVS device.

“Many patients want non-drug options, so developing a non-drug therapy such as this may provide that,” said Peter Goadsby, chair of the American Headache Society’s science committee.