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High-Flow Oxygen Inhalation Therapy for Cluster Headaches

Examples

100% oxygen inhaled through a face mask

How It Works

Oxygen is given at a high flow rate of 6 to 7 liters a minute for 10 to 20 minutes at the start of a cluster headache.

Why It Is Used

High-flow oxygen inhalation therapy is used to treat cluster headaches. If headache pain is not relieved within 20 minutes, oxygen therapy should be stopped.

High-flow oxygen therapy does not prevent a cluster headache. It only provides temporary relief of headache pain.

How Well It Works

Oxygen therapy is one of the best treatments to stop a cluster headache. Oxygen therapy relieves headache pain within 15 minutes in more than 7 out of 10 people who use it. It works best when started right when a cluster headache starts.1

Side Effects

In general, there are no adverse effects from oxygen treatment. But oxygen is a fire hazard. It is important to follow safety measures to keep you and your family safe. Do not use oxygen around lit cigarettes, open flames, or flammable substances.

Your doctor will set the flow rate per minute to give you the right amount of oxygen. Don't change the flow rate unless your doctor tells you to.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

The major drawback of this therapy is that you must have continuous access to an oxygen tank because you usually don't know when a cluster headache will occur. It may be inconvenient to keep oxygen on hand all the time. Medicines may be easier to use when headaches occur at times when you are not at home.

If needed, oxygen can be combined with cluster headache medicines (such as sumatriptan) for the most effective treatment. Oxygen also may be combined with preventive medicines to reduce how often you get headaches.

Do not use oxygen around lit cigarettes, open flames, or flammable products. If you or those around you smoke, be sure to consider oxygen therapy very carefully because of the danger of fire or explosion.

For information on safety, hygiene, and travel, see:

Click here to view an Actionset.Oxygen Therapy: Using Oxygen at Home.

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References

Citations

  1. Cohen AS, et al. (2009). High-flow oxygen for treatment of cluster headache: A randomized trial. JAMA, 302(22): 2451–2457.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Colin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology
Last Revised January 27, 2012

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