Vibrating headband could offer a drug-free way to unblock a chronic stuffy nose, research finds

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Vibrating headband could offer a drug-free way to unblock a chronic stuffy nose, research finds

A vibrating headband could offer a novel, drug-free way to unblock a chronic, stuffy nose. New research has shown the band is as good at reducing

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A vibrating headband could offer a novel, drug-free way to unblock a chronic, stuffy nose. 

New research has shown the band is as good at reducing symptoms as nasal steroid sprays which, though effective, can cause side-effects such as nosebleeds.

Some decongestant sprays are also not suitable for certain patients, such as those with raised blood pressure.

Patients wear the headband, which sits across the forehead, for two 15-minute sessions a day. Tests on 52 people showed symptoms improved within a week of using the device.

Chronic nasal congestion affects one in five people at some point. It has a variety of causes, including medications such as beta blockers and allergies to pet hair, dust mites or pollen (allergic rhinitis).

A vibrating headband could offer a novel, drug-free way to unblock a chronic, stuffy nose (stock image)

A vibrating headband could offer a novel, drug-free way to unblock a chronic, stuffy nose (stock image)

Whatever the trigger, the irritation causes blood vessels within the nasal lining to become swollen, leading to excessive production of mucus.

The swelling may spread beyond the nasal passage to the sinuses (air-filled cavities in the skull which are linked to the nasal passages by small channels). Normally these allow mucus to drain away.

The new headband delivers soundwaves into the bones above the nose — the vibrations travel to the blocked nasal cavity and sinuses where they’re thought to have dual action: helping reduce the swelling of the blood vessels (breaking up the inflammatory cells), while also physically shifting the mucus. 

The battery-powered headband, which can easily be used at home, is controlled by an app on a smartphone — patients first use this to take multiple images of their face which are analysed to produce a grid from which the volume of the nose and sinuses is calculated. The app then decides the best frequency for the vibrations.

In a recent month-long trial, 52 patients with chronic nasal congestion used the vibrating headband or a placebo headband (which made a noise but didn’t emit vibrations).

Those given the vibrating headband experienced improvements similar to some nasal sprays and were significantly less congested than the group that had the placebo headband.

Chronic nasal congestion affects one in five people at some point. It has a variety of causes, including medications such as beta blockers and allergies to pet hair, dust mites or pollen (stock image)

Chronic nasal congestion affects one in five people at some point. It has a variety of causes, including medications such as beta blockers and allergies to pet hair, dust mites or pollen (stock image)

The researchers from the University of Texas, writing in the journal International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, said the band ‘may be an attractive alternative for those patients who have difficulty adhering to pharmacological treatments’. 

Commenting on this approach, Professor Jaydip Ray, an ear, nose and throat consultant at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘This is an interesting study. The social, economic and occupational impact of nasal congestion and blockage on the large number of sufferers is high.’

He added that many people self-medicate using over-the-counter nasal decongestants for prolonged periods ‘resulting in rebound congestion [when the problem gets worse because of overuse of the medication] which is even harder to cure’.

He said that ‘a positive outcome from this innovative multicentre pilot trial using a non- intrusive non-pharmacological treatment option is very encouraging’, but ‘larger studies would be needed’.

More than six out of ten patients who’d relied on medication were able to stop or reduce it after a one-off treatment with radiofrequency waves to destroy the posterior nasal nerve (which helps control mucus production).

  • Zapping a nerve in the nose can help treat chronic nasal congestion, according to a trial with 129 patients at Witten/Herdecke University in Germany, and other centres.

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