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Health Team

Cluster headache sufferers find relief in oxygen

Posted December 8, 2009 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated December 8, 2009 8:29 p.m. EST

Cluster headache patients say the pain they experience can be more excruciating than childbirth or a gunshot wound. Attacks usually occur several times a day and can go on for weeks or months.

A new study reveals an easy and effective way to bring relief.

Oxygen has given Valerie Walker a drug-free way of cutting the length of a cluster headache, which can last anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours several times a day.

“(A) cluster headache for me is on one side of the head and it's usually a very piercing, stabbing pain the eye area,” she said.

Researchers followed 76 patients in London, England from 2002 to 2007, treating four cluster headaches in each patient using air and oxygen. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and found patients using the oxygen were most likely pain-free after 15 minutes of treatment.

“Our study showed for the first time a clear difference between oxygen and air in treatment of acute cluster headache,” said Dr. Peter Goadsby, of the University of California. “Twenty percent of attacks were improved on placebo, which is air, and 78 percent of attacks were improved on oxygen, a clear difference in favor of oxygen.”

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