Hand-held device used to treat migraines helping COVID-19 patients breathe easier

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Hospitalization rates for COVID-19 patients are at an all-time high. And since COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, many people in the hospital find themselves struggling to breathe freely.

But now, a device mainly used to treat migraines has just received emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration to help COVID patients breathe a little easier.

"Antivirals, high-dose steroids, oxygen, inhalers, antibiotics, you name it," said Marshall Bedder, who was hospitalized with COVID-19.

Bedder was prescribed it all as doctors treated him for the coronavirus. He had difficulty breathing and his oxygen levels were low.

"When I was admitted, quite hypoxemic, in the seventies, I was worried," Bedder said.

Then this happened. His oxygen levels went from 91 to 95 in a few minutes and he could breathe easier. The reason behind the sudden relief? A device called GammaCore.

So, what is it?

"GammaCore Sapphire CV was recently authorized by the FDA for use in patients with COVID," said Peter Staats, MD. Staats is the chief medical officer at ElectroCore, which makes the device. He's also the chief medical officer of National Spine and Pain Centers, the largest integrated network of pain physicians in the United States.

The hand-held device works by sending electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve, which serves as the body's "command center" and plays a crucial role in relaying signals throughout the body.

After the vagus nerve is stimulated by the GammaCore, it can help open up the lungs, resulting in increased airflow in COVID-19 patients.

GammaCore, which is typically used to treat migraines, is now one of the latest tools in the fight against COVID-19.

"We may be able to alter the course of the disease such that, if you can breathe better, you won't need to go on a mechanical ventilator," Staats explained.

Patients can use this at home on their own, but they need a prescription from a doctor to obtain the device. Bedder got his device while he was in the hospital and he says it has made all the difference.

"Trust me, when you cannot breathe and there's no other options, it's a tremendous thing," Bedder said.

And there may be more benefits, other than the ones that can be seen immediately.

Staats says the stimulation that GammaCore provides to the vagus nerve can also reduce inflammation and possibly ease the long-term effects of COVID-19.
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