Oxygen. Yes, you read that right. The colourless, odourless gas that makes up 21% of our atmosphere. The Cochrane Collaboration has evaluated 11 studies and concluded that it could be the most effective — and most overlooked — prescription drug for migraine and cluster headache sufferers.
What are migraines and cluster headaches?
Approximately 15% of the world’s total population are affected by migraine headaches. Migraines are typically characterised by recurrent throbbing pains on one side of the head that range from moderate to severe, and can last from 2 to 72 hours. Migraines are often accompanied or preceded by sensory warning signs, including nausea, vomiting, light flashes, tingling, and heightened sensitivity to light, sound or smell.
The causes and underlying mechanisms of migraines are not fully known. However, they are believed to be the result of temporary changes in our brain chemistry, triggered by genetic, hormonal and environmental factors. These changes cause the blood vessels in the brain to expand and become inflamed, and the nerves that transmit pain to become overexcited.
Cluster headaches are a rather different beast. Beast being the operative word. Though they are sometimes confused with and misdiagnosed as migraines, they’re much rarer and aren’t usually accompanied by warning signs. They’re also far worse and often described as “the worst pain known to humans”.
Cluster headaches are commonly accompanied by a watery eye, smaller pupil in one eye, red ear, blocked or runny nostril, and/or a droopy eyelid.
Cluster headaches begin suddenly and can typically last between 15 minutes and 3 hours, occurring 1-8 times a day for several weeks or even months. Remissions often follow, sometimes lasting months or even years before reoccurrence. Migraines also vary; some people have frequent migraines and some only have them occasionally. As with cluster headaches, years can pass between migraine attacks.
The evidence that oxygen eliminates migraines and cluster headaches
The Cochrane Collaboration, an independent global network of medical researchers, has analysed and evaluated 11 controlled studies with 209 participants, looking at the efficacy of oxygen therapy in migraine and cluster headache cases.
The studies assessed both Normobaric Oxygen Therapy (NBOT) and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT). NBOT is where 100% pure oxygen is administered in normal air pressure conditions. HBOT is where 100% pure oxygen is administered in heightened pressure conditions. A patient gets more oxygen than normal with NBOT (since normal air only contains 21%), and even more with HBOT (because the increased atmospheric pressure enables more oxygen to dissolve in the blood).
Pooling the data, Cochrane found that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is effective at terminating migraine headaches after 40-45 minutes, and Normobaric Oxygen Therapy is effective at terminating cluster headaches after just 15 minutes.
None of the studies Cochrane looked at assessed the efficacy of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in cluster headache cases. However, we have traced two small placebo-controlled studies that Cochrane appears to have missed. In 1993, Di Sabato et al found that 6 out of 7 patients with episodic cluster headaches experienced an improvement in symptoms following Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. In 1997, Di Sabato conducted a similar study with chronic cluster headache patients, who also reported an improvement following HBOT.
The evidence is clear. Both normobaric and hyperbaric oxygen can have highly effective and immediate therapeutic benefits in migraine and cluster headache cases.
Why is HBOT better than NBOT?
It’s a simple biological fact that more oxygen is good for you. Oxygen has robust healing properties and is known to reduce pain and inflammation. This is the main reason why extra oxygen through NBOT and HBOT is so useful for migraine and cluster headache sufferers.
With an NBOT, you breathe in pure oxygen in normal pressure conditions, and this extra oxygen gets distributed around your body in the haemoglobin in your blood. But HBOT actually increases the oxygen-carrying capacity of your blood. It causes oxygen to dissolve in the plasma, reaching areas and tissues that the haemoglobin can’t get to, saturating every cell in your body.
There is also scientific evidence to support that HBOT is more effective than NBOT in headache cases. In 1989, Weiss et al administered HBOT in a cluster headache case where NBOT hadn’t worked. After 20 minutes of HBOT, pain and nasal congestion in the patient were halted, but came back 2 and a half hours later. After a second session of HBOT, the pain was halted and didn’t return for 7 months.
Dr Senol Yildiz of the Department of Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine says:
Similarly, Michael Bennett of Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, and lead reviewer on the Cochrane report, says:
We take Bennett’s point about the lack of hyperbaric chambers. This is why we have opened the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Centre in Chelsea, London.
The availability of hyperbaric chambers in London just got better
Our recently opened clinic now offers migraine and cluster headache sufferers the chance to try a simple alternative therapy to medication. A therapy that is scientifically proven to relieve or terminate symptoms in the majority of cases.
At our Chelsea-based clinic, hyperbaric sessions are administered by our in-house hyperbaric expert, the world-renowned Robert Pender, using a state-of-the-art, single-person chamber for optimal privacy. Robert Pender will carefully assess your symptoms during an initial consultation in order to decide upon the number of hyperbaric sessions you require.
So if you suffer from cluster headaches and migraines and you’re looking for an effective alternative remedy, contact us on 0203 823 1212 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or book a consultation with hyperbaric expert Robert Pender.