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Oxygen therapy for 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 4 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.


>Q. My doctor said that the PM pain relievers I take to help me sleep are not habit-forming. I am starting to wonder about that, though: They are NOT as effective as they were, and I have had some confusion and impaired judgment I attribute to these medications.

I still need help for my sleeplessness. Is there a mild medication that will do the job without side effects?

A. We're not surprised that the benefits of your PM pain relievers are wearing off. Sleep experts have told us that the antihistamine diphenhydramine, the ingredient in most PM painkillers, loses effectiveness with repeated use. It also can leave some people with a morning "hangover" or cause confusion and fuzzy thinking (Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, December 2010).

You might want to try nondrug approaches to overcoming your insomnia. Exercise during the day can be helpful, as can a hot bath in the evening. Taking melatonin at bedtime sometimes helps, and for a longer-term solution, cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to work (Journal of the American Medical Association, June 28, 2006). You'll find more options at


>Q. I am in my 70s and, like many seniors, must take several medications. Mine make me constipated.

I am taking MiraLax but still have bleeding hemorrhoids occasionally. Will a sitz bath help? I would appreciate any recommendations you have for constipation.

A. Sitting in warm water several times a day (a sitz bath) can ease the discomfort from an acute flare-up of hemorrhoids. But avoiding constipation would be more helpful.

Check with your doctor to see if there are acceptable substitutes for the medicines causing you trouble. We offer a list of the most likely medications that cause constipation and our top 10 tips to combat constipation in our Guides to Digestive Disorders & Constipation.


Anyone who would like copies, please send $4 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (64 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. GG-33, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. Each can be downloaded for $2 from our website: