Oxygen is used to treat other headache disorders, like cluster headaches. It has shown little promise in the treatment of migraine.

Oxygen therapy is a safe and effective treatment for cluster headache attacks, but little research has been done on its effects on migraine.

For people with cluster headaches, supplemental oxygen during an attack can help relieve symptoms. But there’s still a lot we need to learn about this therapy.

Oxygen therapy is the use of supplemental oxygen during a headache to help alleviate symptoms. It’s been used in some capacity as a headache treatment since 1939.

It’s believed that 100% oxygen, at a flow of 6 to 8 liters per minute, can be inhaled through a nasal mask to provide pain relief during a cluster headache attack.

Doctors don’t know if oxygen therapy works for migraine headaches. Research is still very limited, and more studies need to be done. But it currently doesn’t appear to be a promising solution.

When it comes to migraine, specifically, the jury’s still out. To date, much more research has been done around oxygen therapy as a remedy for cluster headaches than for migraine.

Results from a 2021 research review suggest that oxygen therapy is no more effective for treating headache disorders than a placebo.

Other research has shown that oxygen therapy is more likely to reduce migraine intensity than placebo. And that it may reduce other migraine symptoms, like visual aura.

Pros of oxygen therapy

  • Natural and safe
  • No side effects
  • Proven effective for cluster headaches

Cons of oxygen therapy

  • Expensive and difficult to get
  • Usually not covered by insurance
  • Loud oxygen compressor
  • Large and cumbersome tanks
  • Not proven effective for migraine
Was this helpful?

The research also suggests that oxygen therapy could be particularly helpful for people who experience migraine with cluster headache features like watery eyes.

One small feasibility study from 2018 found that some people with medication-overuse headaches did benefit from oxygen therapy.

Researchers found that people seemed to get some relief from headache attacks during their withdrawal period. But many of the participants were using other medications at the time, and there were other compounding factors. While this is slightly more promising, it only suggests a need for more research.

Part of why it’s been difficult to make conclusions about oxygen therapy so far is that studies often use different oxygen flow rates, concentrations, and delivery devices (masks). These factors are all key components of this treatment.

Most research on oxygen therapy for headache pain has been done on its effects on cluster headaches.

Research has shown that high flow oxygen is one of the most effective treatments for cluster headache attacks. More than 70% of people with cluster headaches find that oxygen therapy helps provide pain relief or stops an attack entirely.

Even though it appears to be safe and effective, oxygen therapy is not a well-known treatment option. And it remains very difficult for most people to access. This means it’s often underutilized in the treatment of cluster headaches.

Oxygen therapy is meant to be used in conjunction with other headache treatments.

One 2017 study looked at the cost of oxygen therapy for cluster headaches in the United States. Findings showed that annual expenses for supplemental oxygen varied widely across 42 states, ranging from under $1,000 per year to over $5,000 per year.

This study found that many private health insurance companies covered some of the costs of supplemental oxygen for cluster headaches, but the same is not true for migraine.

In 2020, the American Migraine Foundation released a joint statement with the American Headache Society in support of covering the cost of oxygen therapy as a cluster headache treatment.

It may now be covered by Medicare for people with cluster headaches, based on an updated coverage statement.

If you want to try oxygen therapy for your headache disorder, you’ll need to work closely with a doctor. But you will be hard-pressed to find a doctor willing to prescribe oxygen for migraine.

Even if you have a cluster headache diagnosis, it can be a long road before you’re set up with oxygen at home.

A doctor has to prescribe oxygen therapy and include information about flow rate, concentration, and delivery. Then you’ll have to work with an oxygen supply company and your insurance company to get your tanks delivered. You may also need to rent or buy equipment, like an oxygen regulator, to help control the oxygen flow rate.

Oxygen therapy is known to be a safe, effective option for symptom relief during a cluster headache attack. More research needs to be done to find out if oxygen has any effects on migraine attacks.

If you have cluster headaches or experience migraine with cluster headache features, ask your doctor if they recommend adding oxygen therapy to your treatment plan.