London: Suffering from cluster headaches? There will be help at hand soon, as scientists have developed a new mask-like device that delivers a super-fast oxygen boost to tackle the painful condition.
When put over the face, the new device releases oxygen into the airways of people with the condition which strike sufferers repeatedly in a short space of time.
The device, which is on trial at the Geisinger Clinic in Pennsylvania, in the US, contains a special valve to help pump more air by breathing harder, a newspaper reported.
The gadget delivers 160 litres of oxygen per minute which researchers hope will bring speedy relief. The old-style continuous flow delivered just 15 litres per minute.
Patients will use the gadget, which needs to be attached to an oxygen cylinder, when they feel the first symptoms.
Oxygen is thought to help as it causes further reductions in the size of the blood vessels.
Dr Andrew Dowson of the Kings College Hospital in London said: "Oxygen can be effective in cluster headaches, but one of the difficulties is delivering it.
"In some cases, people have used diving masks, but this (new device) sounds much more user-friendly."
The cause behind cluster headaches is not known and symptoms usually start between the ages of 20 and 40, with men more likely to be diagnosed than women.
Attacks often start with a minor pain around one eye, which spreads to the rest of that side of the face. Other symptoms can include a runny nose and droopy eyelid.
An attack usually lasts between 30 and 45 minutes, but can be quickly followed by another as many as eight times a day, before stopping for months or even years.
Scientists believe there may be a genetic link, as many sufferers have a close relative with the condition.
One of the most common treatments is injections of triptans, a family of drugs which are thought to work by narrowing blood vessels in the head, reducing pain.
However, the treatment doesn`t work in all sufferers. Recent studies show that combining oxygen therapy with injections of triptans makes the drugs better at stopping an attack.
Until now, oxygen therapy has involved patients breathing the gas through a mask at a constant pressure. But this can be inefficient at stopping the attacks and can take up to half an hour to work.
A study published in February of more than 1,000 headache sufferers found that in many cases oxygen failed to prevent an attack because the flow rate was too slow, meaning they didn`t get oxygen fast enough to halt the onset of the headache.