Nasal sprays for migraines are underprescribed.

An oral tablet is the most convenient way to take medicine. However, many migraine sufferers wake up with a headache that is in full bloom and severe nausea or vomiting makes it difficult to take oral medications. Others find that tablets are ineffective or take too long to work.

Sumatriptan (Imitrex), the miracle migraine drug which has changed lives of millions of migraine and cluster headache sufferers, was first released in an injection. The injection is still available and is the most effective way to stop a migraine. The injection comes in a variety of pre-filled syringes and cartridges, which are very easy to self-inject. The problem with injections is that some people don’t like the idea of injecting themselves, which is surprising, considering how much pain and suffering they endure from migraine. Another problem is the cost – even in a generic form a shot costs $35 (see for cheapest prices). The biggest reason why injections are underutilized is that doctors fail to offer this option to patients, many of whom would be happy to use it.

Nasal sprays offer a middle ground option – not as fast or effective as an injection, but faster and sometimes more effective than a tablet. There are several medications available in a nasal spray. The same triptan medication, sumatriptan comes in a nasal spray. However, another triptan, zolmitriptan (Zomig NS) in my experience is more effective. The disadvantage of Zomig is that it is very expensive if not covered by insurance (over $200 a spray) because it is not available in a generic form.

Another nasal spray approved for migraine headaches is Migranal. It contains dihydroergotamine, which is one of the strongest injectable migraine drugs. However, it is much less effective in a nasal spray form. It is also very expensive – $200 a dose. Dihydroergotamine is about to be released in an inhaler. It will be called Levadex and will deliver the medicine into the lungs. Its efficacy should be as good as that of an injection, but with fewer side effects. Hopefully, it will not be more expensive than the generic sumatriptan injection. Otherwise, just like with Migranal, insurance companies will not cover it.

Sprix is a nasal spray containing ketorolac. In a tablet form (Toradol) ketorolac is no more effective than aspirin and is more irritating to the stomach. But it is a very effective drug for migraines when it is injected and to a lesser extent, when sprayed into the nose. It is very popular as an injection in the ERs and at our New York Headache Center. Sprix can sometimes irritate the nasal passages. It costs about $35 a dose.

Stadol (butorphanol) is a narcotic (opioid) pain killer, which costs about $30 a dose in a generic form. It does relieve pain well and is approved for migraine headaches. However, just like other narcotics, it is potentially addictive. Also, many migraine sufferers find that narcotics do not help their migraine and often makes them feel sicker. It also costs over $30 a dose.

There are several over-the-counter nasal sprays containing hot pepper extract, capsaicin. There is no good scientific evidence that these capsaicin products sprayed into the nose relieve migraines or cluster headaches. On the other hand, besides burning and irritation of the nasal passages, they have few side effects and are inexpensive.

1 comment
  1. Concerned says: 08/19/201612:11 pm

    Article says Sprix costs abt $35 per dose. Doesn’t sound bad…at first. Just got a prescription for Sprix and while I see this article is a few years old, it seems to me the cost should’ve gone down, not up. In checking insurance options for coverage I’ve seen that with companies that don’t cover this the patient cost is over $1600 for five vials! But then I had to wonder what the article based the dose cost on. Each vial is used only 1 day & then discarded. Directions state that your Dr will tell you whether to use on one or both nostrils, so 2 nostrils could be considered 2 doses, multiplied by using 4 times per day = 8 doses @ $35 each, multiplied by 5 days of use = $1400. So while 1 dose may be around $35, the cost of use is far greater.

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