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Oxygen Therapy for Bad Headaches

Q. You have written about treating migraines without drugs. Although this might sound like pseudoscience, I’ve found oxygen to be a godsend.

A headache specialist who has heard about oxygen therapy can prescribe a tank of oxygen. It’s a bit cumbersome because you have to keep a tank and hoses handy, but at the very first sign of a migraine or cluster headache, take in about four liters per minute of oxygen.

The sooner you begin treating at the onset of a headache (during the “halo” stage preferably, before the pain starts), the better this method works.

It does not work for everybody; it seems to work better for cluster headaches than for classic migraines. If it works for you the first time, it will never fail to work thereafter. For me, it’s like a miracle.

A. Oxygen treatment for cluster headaches is not pseudoscience. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Dec. 9, 2009) found that inhaled high-flow oxygen frequently resulted in pain relief within 15 minutes. This treatment was significantly more effective than inhaling plain air with the same equipment.

The value of oxygen therapy for migraine headaches, on the other hand, remains controversial. There is not enough research on this approach to be certain of its effectiveness.

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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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