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Oxygen Therapy May Alleviate Cluster and Migraine Pain

Two forms of oxygen therapy may stop the pain for those who suffer from migraine and cluster headaches, according to a recent review of nine clinical trials.

Oxygen therapy takes two forms: hyperbaric, where patients breathe 100% oxygen in a pressurized and sealed chamber, and normobaric, where patients breathe 100% oxygen under normal pressure from a portable oxygen unit via a face mask. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is administered in a hospital while normobaric therapy can be administered at home.

Three of the trials showed that hyperbaric therapy was six times more likely to relieve migraine pain than a sham treatment and was effective within 40 to 45 minutes.

Two studies examined the use of normobaric therapy for cluster headache. One found that the technique was better at easing the pain of cluster headaches than a sham treatment. The other showed it to be effective, but not more effective, than the prescription medication ergotamine. In those two trials combined, 76% of patients experienced pain relief when treated with normobaric therapy.

Neither type of therapy was successful at preventing future migraines or cluster headaches.

While medical experts are not certain why oxygen therapy is helpful in reducing the pain associated with both types of headache, lead researcher Michael H. Bennett, MD, of the Prince of Wales Hospital in Australia, has hypotheses. During migraines, the blood vessels in the head dilate; hyperbaric oxygen causes them to constrict. In cluster headaches, Dr. Bennet said, there are certain areas of the brain where activity is altered and oxygen has a normalizing effect on that activity.

Dr. Bennett noted that hyperbaric therapy is expensive and few facilities have it, so its use will likely be limited to extreme situations when relief cannot be obtained from any other method. Normobaric therapy, on the other hand, is inexpensive and easy to administer. He recommends that people who suffer from cluster headache speak to their healthcare provider about oxygen therapy if they are not getting full relief from their medication.

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