Occasional headaches are a common health complaint in children. Just like adults, some children and teens experience chronic headaches that are difficult to manage. An estimated 20% of school-age children (ages 5-17) in the United States are prone to headaches.
A migraine is a type of headache characterized by severe pain, often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.
When 14-year-old Max started having migraines the summer before his eighth grade school year, his mother, Molly, quickly searched for a solution to help her son.
“His headaches came out of nowhere, would last for weeks, and were completely debilitating,” Molly said. “Max would go days without coming out of his room or eating because he was in so much pain.”
After seeing their family doctor and trying prescription medications with no relief, Max was referred to pediatric neurologist and headache specialist, Dr. Riddhiben Patel.
Dr. Patel recommended a sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) nerve block, which administers anesthetics to the SPG, the bundle of nerve cells that are closely linked with the main nerve involved in headache disorders, called the trigeminal nerve. The SPG contains connections to the brainstem where cluster headaches and migraines may begin. The sphenopalatine ganglion nerve block stops this transmission of pain by administering anesthetic to the SPG and associated nerve.
“Temporarily blocking function of the SPG can provide prompt, and sometimes sustained, relief of pain,” explains Dr. Patel. “This sustained relief can be theorized by disrupting dysfunctional neuronal activity which allows restoration of normal function.”
Dr. Patel says children and adolescents are candidates for a SPG block when they have failed to see results from preventive medications or other treatment approaches.
“Max was suffering from daily headaches before we started SPG, and it was impacting his quality of life,” said Dr. Patel. “He had immediate relief after the first treatment.”
After undergoing several treatments over the course of six months, Max has gone up to 12 weeks without a migraine and is able to be a kid again.
“We have a big family, and everyone was so happy to have Max back,” Molly said. “He loves to cook, play video games and spend time with his cat.”
Molly says she is incredibly grateful for Dr. Patel and her team for helping Max get back to being a happy go lucky kid. She hopes other families will consider SPG treatment sooner rather than later when medications aren’t effective.
What can I expect during a sphenopalatine ganglion block?
In this minimally invasive treatment, a small amount of anesthetics is administered into each nostril through a catheter placed in the nose. Most patients describe feeling mild sensations of pressure or feeling like they have to sneeze.
What are the risks of receiving a sphenopalatine ganglion block?
Minimal risks are associated with a SPG block and can include infection, minimal bleeding from the nose, pain in the treated areas, and light-headedness. Side effects generally resolve on their own within a few hours of treatment.
It’s important to let your provider know if you have any active infections or have a history of nasal surgery as these conditions may require your procedure being postponed.
Headache and Migraine Specialty Program at Child Neurology Consultants of Austin
The Headache and Migraine Program team of providers specialize in the diagnosis and management of headaches in children of all ages and provide the most up to date therapies for headache management.