Cluster headaches are incredibly painful and can be very hard to treat. Men are more frequently affected than women. The pain is usually focused on one side of the head near the eye and can be incapacitating. The attacks can last from a few minutes to several hours and tend to recur in clusters that may last for weeks or longer. A new placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that an old treatment works surprisingly well.
Dr. Lee Kudrow reported in the early 1980s that breathing oxygen through a mask can stop cluster headaches. The new study shows that three quarters of the patients who breathed high-flow oxygen for fifteen minutes at the first sign of an attack got dramatic relief. That compares to one-fifth of those breathing plain air as a placebo who reported benefit. The investigators concluded that oxygen represents a viable alternative to medications for the treatment of cluster headaches.
[Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 9, 2009]
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