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Pure oxygen helps fight cluster headaches

December 8, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
People who get cluster headaches will tell you the pain they experience can be excruciating. And attacks can occur several times a day, lasting over a period of weeks. Doctors are now using a new treatment involving pure oxygen to help relieve the intense pain. Valerie Walker uses an oxygen tank to help her cut the length of her cluster headaches, which can last anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours several times a day.

"Cluster headache for me is on one side of the head and it's usually a very piercing, stabbing pain in the eye area," said Walker.

"Our study showed for the first time a clear difference between oxygen and air in the treatment of acute cluster headache," said Dr. Peter Goadsby from UC San Francisco. "It was properly powered, randomized and placebo controlled and really provides evidence for the use of oxygen in cluster headache."

Dr. Goadsby followed 76 patients from 2002 to 2007. He and his colleagues treated cluster headaches in each patient using air and oxygen.

The study provided by the Journal of the American Medical Association found patients using the oxygen were most likely pain free after 15 minutes of treatment.

"Twenty percent of attacks were improved on placebo -- which is air," said Dr. Goadsby. "And 78 percent of attacks were improved on oxygen, a clear difference in favor of oxygen."

"It means the difference between being in pain for most of the day, instead of just being in pain for short bouts throughout the day," said Walker.

"This study is important because it offers patients with cluster headache a safe, effective treatment that they can use on multiple occasions that will give them good pain relief for their appalling headaches," said Dr. Goadsby.

Researchers also found that not only does the oxygen help stop the pain of an attack, but it also can turn off other symptoms including: eye watering, swelling and redness.