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How to Stop Cluster Headaches by Inhaling Lidocaine

Inhaling pure oxygen or lidocaine nasal spray at the first hint of one-sided headache pain can often stop cluster headaches.

Cluster headaches are exquisitely painful headaches that occur repeatedly in “clusters.” Usually the pain is on one side of the head, often around one eye. Most sufferers have periods of time in which the headaches are absent. These are interspersed with periods when the headaches may recur frequently. These excruciating episodes don’t usually respond to the analgesics people use for ordinary headaches, like aspirin or ibuprofen. What can you do to stop cluster headaches?

How Do You Stop Cluster Headaches?

Q. I suffered from cluster headaches for decades. Each headache would typically last 30 minutes and I’d get up to five a day for 6 to 8 weeks. Then they would go away for a year or two.

I took every medication available and nothing helped. I saw a pain specialist who suggested I use 100 percent oxygen as soon as I felt the start of a headache. It worked great and the headache never took hold.

I explained to him that my headaches always started around the nasal area on the right side, and he prescribed lidocaine hydrochloride topical solution. If I couldn’t get oxygen, I would spray the solution up my right nostril. The pain would subside within a few minutes and it would stop cluster headaches immediately.

Inhaled Oxygen for Cluster Headaches:

A. Inhaled oxygen is an established treatment for cluster headaches. However, a report from the International Headache Society noted that many national medical plans do not cover its use (Cephalalgia, April 27, 2016). We recently learned that Medicare does not cover this first-line treatment.

We weren’t familiar with lidocaine treatment for this painful condition, but we found a case study of successful treatment (Journal of Medical Case Reports, Feb. 15, 2012).  A review of research concluded that there isn’t sufficient evidence to recommend it (Emergency Medicine Journal, Sep., 2013).

That is precisely the reasoning Medicare uses to deny coverage for oxygen. We hope that at some point the research will establish unquestioned effectiveness of a treatment and that Medicare and other insurers will cover it.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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