5 Things You Need to Know to Abort Cluster Headaches with Oxygen
High-flow oxygen may be the most effective treatment for cluster headache attacks, but it is not as simple as breathing through the nasal cannula you often see on movies and passersby.
Barriers to accessing oxygen for cluster headache
Cluster headaches come on quickly, and it's important to have an abortive that is fast-acting but also doesn't come with severe side effects like many of the pharmaceutical medications prescribed for the condition. Oxygen therapy is considered first-line treatment, but patients face at least five barriers in gaining access to oxygen and using it correctly.
An oxygen prescription for cluster headaches
The first issue a patient faces after diagnosis is often getting their doctor to prescribe oxygen therapy for cluster headaches, or to write the prescription correctly.
Having the right doctor to write the prescription
There are just 1.2 certified headache specialists per 100,000 patients in the United States according to the Association for Headache Disorders Advocacy, so many cluster patients seek help from their primary care physician (PCP). While neurologists and headache specialists typically prescribe oxygen right away, it can take several appointments and months, even years, for a patient to convince their PCP that they need oxygen. In the meantime, we're often given medications used for migraine disease and otherwise not indicated for cluster headache including opioids that are ineffective and addictive.
Resources to help guide physicians towards an oxygen prescription
The Fix: Medical professionals respond reasonably well to patients who come to appointments prepared with resources about their condition and treatment. As cluster headaches are on the rarer side of primary headache disorders, providers don't like to admit they're not sure how to approach a treatment plan. Consider bringing these resources with you and ask a trusted friend or family member to come with you to make sure you're being heard in the clinic:
- Prescribing Oxygen for Cluster Headache: A Guide for the Provider by Dr. Stewart Tepper
- 2016 Treatment Guidelines for Cluster Headaches by the American Headache Society
- Comprehensive Oxygen Therapy Information by Clusterbusters
Have you checked out the new Community Hub yet?