(NBC News) – Medication hasn’t helped Paul Alterio’s debilitating cluster headaches, which have incapacitated him two to three times a day for the past four years.
“I was getting headaches behind my right eye, almost like a poking behind my right eye,” he explains.
Last week Paul became the first person in the country to undergo an experimental surgery to treat cluster headaches. Doctors at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center implanted a device into Paul’s gum that stimulates nerves behind his eyes.
The idea is that when patients feel a headache coming on, they wave a special remote control over their cheek, short-circuiting the nerves.
“It allows us to affect the communication between various nerves that contribute to chronic cluster headache, but without doing that and causing permanent change to the nerve,” explains Dr. Bradley Otto.
Treating severe headaches with peripheral nerve stimulation is not new.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the Cefaly headband earlier this year to prevent migraine headaches. The device is designed to send electrical stimulation to nerves involved in migraine pain. Still another experimental device is implanted in the hip and stimulates the occipital nerve through wires that travel up the body.
The clinical trial will take several years to complete.