Cluster headache has the very appropriate name “suicide headache”. It’s rare enough that we haven’t studied it nearly enough, and yet common enough to affect our communities in a big way, and individuals in a huge way.
With a shortage of good treatments, you would think that doctors would prescribe whatever will work that’s not a huge risk. So why is one treatment often overlooked?
That treatment is oxygen therapy.
Oxygen therapy for headache was first mentioned in literature almost 80 years ago, so this is not a new therapy. It’s also considered to be a fairly safe, stable option. As the Migraine Trust says:
Oxygen is one of the safest ways to treat cluster headache. You need to breathe the oxygen in at a rate of between 7 and 12 litres per minute. The treatment usually starts to work within 15 to 20 minute. For some people the attack is delayed rather than stopped altogether. [source]
An article from the National Headache Foundation last month lamented the fact that oxygen therapy is still underutilized for cluster headache:
Despite treatment guidelines recommending the use of oxygen for the acute therapy of cluster headache, oxygen remains underutilized. A recent study looking at the cost of oxygen for cluster headache found the reason for its lack of use may be because of poor physician awareness of the treatment, as well as the lack of understanding for how to write and fill a prescription for high-flow oxygen.
According to a recent study, the price of oxygen therapy varies quite a bit, but averages out at around $1000 per year in the USA. Most private insurance plans will cover it. So – why not make use of it?
If you have cluster and are looking for solutions, you can help your doctor get more information about prescribing oxygen therapy. In the USA, click the link at the bottom of this article to email the National Headache Foundation for information.
Prescription information for the UK can be found here.
In other countries, talk with your local specialist or call a headache or pain clinic.
For more information, check the Michigan Headache & Neurological Institute.