Nasal Surgery Brings Hope to Migraine Sufferers

Bonnie Muir has lived with paralyzing migraines since she was a teenager. At times, her headaches and the nausea that follows have been so unbearable that she has dunked her head into a sink full of ice to dull the pain.

"If the headache is bad, you can't do anything," Muir said. "I mean dark room, shades drawn, no sound. You take your medication. Sometimes the medication just doesn't work."

So when Muir, 54, of Hoboken, N.J., heard about a simple nasal surgery that could cure or dramatically reduce the number of migraines in some patients, she tried it.

"It is a breakthrough for migraines," said Dr. Fereidoon Behin of Christ Hospital in Jersey City, N.J. "Hers will be much, much less than they were before, and she doesn't need any migraine medication."

Not for Everyone?

Dr. Nancy Snyderman, vice president at Johnson & Johnson, believes the treatment can cure a portion of migraine sufferers, but not all.

"I think there probably is a small subset of people who could benefit from this," she said.

Snyderman advocates asking a number of questions before embarking on surgery, such as, "Do you have pain that has not been responsive to medicine?" and, "Do you have a good ear, nose and throat doctor in your community who is skilled at this kind of surgery?" and finally, "Have you had a CAT scan of your sinuses?"

Doing homework is key because nasal surgery can lead to complications.

In Muir's case, nasal surgery went off without a hitch.

Behin said some sufferers, like Muir, had pressure points in their nose that when combined with any number of triggers caused migraines. He used surgery to eliminate Muir's nasal pressure by separating the bones pressing on the septum.

"We can see that the septum in this cut is completely separated from both walls of the nasal cavity," Behin said.

Behin said the surgery could work for about two-thirds of all migraine sufferers. Some doctors believe the number is far lower than his estimate and say symptoms can return.

Wine and Chocolate

It's only been two months since Muir had the surgery, but already her life has changed dramatically.

"I couldn't drink wine," she said. "I couldn't eat chocolate and, you know, I've done both with no ill effects since the surgery."

For the first time in 40 years, Muir doesn't live in fear of her headaches.

"I'm free," she said. "It's sort of given me a new sense of, of freedom and mobility that I haven't had pretty much all my adult life."