Dec. 8, 2009 — A drug-free option for relief from painful cluster headachesmay be just a breath away.
A large new study offers the best evidence to date backing the use ofhigh-flow oxygen treatment for cluster headaches. Researchers found 78% ofpeople who received oxygen treatment reported being pain-free or havingadequate pain relief within 15 minutes of treatment.
Researchers say oxygen treatment for cluster headaches is already a part ofaccepted treatment guidelines, but its use has been limited by a lack ofhigh-quality studies supporting its effectiveness.
Cluster headaches affect about 0.3% of the population and are characterizedby bouts of excruciating pain, usually near the eye or temple on one side. Theattacks can last from 15 minutes to three hours without treatment and may occurseveral times a day.
The most effective treatment for cluster headaches is injection with thetriptan drug Imitrex, but use is limited due to potential side effects. Use ofthe drug is also not recommended in people with medical problems like coronaryheart disease.
The study, published in The Journal of the American MedicalAssociation, involved 76 adults with cluster headaches. The participantstreated four cluster headache episodes alternately with either high-flow oxygenthrough a face mask for 15 minutes at the start of an attack or regular airthrough a face mask. Patients did not know which treatment they were receivingduring each episode.
More than three-fourths of attacks among those who received oxygen treatmentwere pain-free or had adequate pain relief within 15 minutes of treatmentcompared with 20% of attacks treated with air. Oxygen treatment was alsosuperior to the placebo air treatment for pain relief at 30 and 60 minutesafter the start of the cluster headache attack.
Unlike with triptan drugs commonly used in cluster headache treatment, noadverse side effects were associated with the oxygen treatment.
“This work paves the way for further studies to optimize the administrationof oxygen and its more widespread use as an acute attack treatment in clusterheadache, offering an evidence-based alternative to those who cannot taketriptan agents,” write researcher Anna S. Cohen, PhD, of the National Hospitalfor Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, and colleagues.