There may be new hope for migraine sufferers, in the form of a gadget that gets shoved up the ear. Developed by US-based company Scion NeuroStim, it alternately heats and cools the inside of the ear canal, and was recently shown to be effective in a study carried out by Britain's University of Kent.

Using a technique known as caloric vestibular stimulation (CVS), the device delivers thermal currents that activate balance-related organs in the inner ear. It is believed that these organs in turn affect activity in the brainstem, which is associated with the onset of migraines.

It was tested in a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial carried out on 81 test subjects throughout the US and UK. All of the people typically experienced four to 14 migraines per month. Subjects in the non-placebo group used the device to administer CVS for 20 minutes a day, over a three-month period.

The setup consisted of aluminum earpieces that delivered the actual currents, mounted in padded headphones and powered/controlled via a handheld remote.

At the end of the three months, it was found that the treatment group experienced an average of 3.6 fewer migraine days per month, while the placebo group had a reduction of just 0.9 days. Additionally, the treated subjects experienced less headache pain, and required less in the way of medication.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Headache. Plans call for a larger trial to be conducted this summer (Northern Hemisphere).