High-Flow Oxygen Inhalation Therapy for Cluster Headaches

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High-Flow Oxygen Inhalation Therapy for Cluster Headaches


100% oxygen inhaled through a face mask

How It Works

Oxygen is given at a high flow rate of 6 to 7 litres a minute for 10 to 20 minutes at the start of a cluster headache.

Why It Is Used

High-flow oxygen inhalation therapy is used to treat cluster headaches. If headache pain is not relieved within 20 minutes, oxygen therapy should be stopped.

High-flow oxygen therapy does not prevent a cluster headache. It only provides temporary relief of headache pain.

How Well It Works

Oxygen therapy is one of the best treatments to stop a cluster headache. Oxygen therapy relieves headache pain within 15 minutes in more than 7 out of 10 people who use it. It works best when started right when a cluster headache starts.1

Side Effects

High-flow oxygen inhalation therapy usually causes no side effects. But it may be difficult to sit still to receive oxygen therapy during a painful cluster headache.

What To Think About

The major drawback of this therapy is that you must have continuous access to an oxygen tank because you usually don't know when a cluster headache will occur. It may be inconvenient to keep oxygen on hand all the time. Medicines may be easier to use when headaches occur at times when you are not at home.

If needed, oxygen can be combined with cluster headache medicines (such as sumatriptan) for the most effective treatment. Oxygen also may be combined with preventive medicines to reduce how often you get headaches.

Oxygen may increase the risk of fire if it is used near an open flame. And oxygen cannot be safely stored or used if you are smoking or if you are near a flame of any kind (lit fireplace or gas stove).

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  1. Cohen AS, et al. (2009). High-flow oxygen for treatment of cluster headache: A randomized trial. JAMA, 302(22): 2451–2457.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Seymour Diamond, MD - Neurology
Specialist Medical Reviewer Colin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology
Last Revised May 27, 2010

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