By Bob Wold of Cluster Busters
Cluster headaches are an excruciating pain unlike any other, so having an option to end, limit or prevent an attack is an amazing gift to a headache sufferer. One treatment is a prescription for high-flow oxygen, as it has proven to be an effective and safe cluster headache treatment for over 50 years. However, it is often difficult to obtain this treatment, and even more difficult to convince insurance to cover it.
Obtaining an Oxygen Treatment Prescription
There are simple guidelines that need to be followed to get the best results from oxygen treatments. The prescription should be written to include the following details: 100% high-flow oxygen for cluster headaches; 12 to 15 LPM flow rate; and supply with non-rebreather mask. Once the prescription is written, research a local medical supply house that delivers medical grade oxygen.
When ordering, request both “E” and larger tanks, either “M” or “H.” E tanks are portable and allow you to attend events easily; whereas, the larger H or M tanks are far less portable, but can treat more severe attacks. The amount and size of the tanks you need delivered will depend on the frequency of attacks you experience on a monthly basis.
(E tanks require a different type of regulator than the larger tanks use. The oxygen supplier will know the appropriate regulator for each tank.)
CAUTION: If you have chronic obstructive lung disease (COLD/COPD), be sure to let the prescribing doctor know, as a high oxygen flow can cause patients to stop breathing.
Getting Started with an Oxygen Treatment
Once you have the oxygen, there are a few basic practices to know about. Start by setting the regulator to give you the proper oxygen flow rate (the reservoir bag should never completely deflate when you inhale). Lung capacity and rate of breathing will determine how high the flow rate should be set.
Next, cut the rubber strap off the mask, this way you won’t fall asleep with the mask on. (The attacks are so draining that it is very common to doze off once the pain has receded.)
As soon as you feel an attack beginning, start the oxygen and breathe deeply and quickly, completely emptying the lungs on exhale. Remain on the oxygen for a few minutes after the attack has receded, to prevent it from returning.
How to Boost Effectiveness
If the 15 LPM regulators are not providing enough oxygen, then order a new one online that can support up to a 25 LPM, or a demand valve. There is a mask that is specially designed for cluster headaches, which makes a big difference in the effectiveness of an oxygen treatment. However, if you do not want to order a new mask, you can always tape off the holes in the sides of the non-rebreather mask that typically comes with the prescription. Additionally, if you need to pace during the attack, tell the supplier that you need a 30-foot airline.
Oxygen can be a best friend for those who suffer from cluster headaches. Even if you have to fight for the prescription or with your insurance company, it is well worth the effort. People that routinely have cluster headaches that last an hour or more are often able to treat and end an attack in as little as ten minutes using oxygen. If the insurance company is the last barrier to obtaining this welcomed relief, then ask your doctor for assistance to convince them.