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Cluster Headaches – Symptoms and Treatment

August 27th, 2014


By: Chad Melius

'THE CLUSTER HEADACHE' by Jaybear is licensed under the CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Cluster headaches occur in clusters, and may last for months. They are the most painful type of headache, and cause a horrible pain on one side of the head, near the eye. Although there is no cure, these headaches can sometimes be prevented. If incurred, attacks can be made shorter and less painful.

Cluster Headache Symptoms

A cluster headache attack occurs without warning, unlike a migraine. Here are some of the possible symptoms:

  • Pain occurs only on one side of the head.

  • An unbelievably severe pain near one eye – feels like a hot poker is being thrust into it.

  • Swelling around the eye.

  • Drooping eyelid.

  • Redness of the eye.

  • Tearing.

  • Stuffy or runny nose.

  • Restlessness – it hurts more if you lie down.

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Causes of Cluster Headaches

We don’t know the cause of cluster headaches. They are not likely caused by either genetics or smoking. One theory is that they are related to the hypothalmus – a portion of the brain that controls the biological clock. This may explain why cluster attacks often happen about the same time every day, and why they tend to occur during certain seasons of the year.

Prevention of Cluster Headaches

Since the cause of cluster headaches is not known, it is not possible to prevent them. However, verapamil seems to have some effect. It is most often used to treat high blood pressure, and dilates the blood vessels. But it has a side effect of causing headaches, so its efficacy is dubious.

Treatment of Cluster Headaches

The idea behind treating cluster headaches is to reduce their pain and shorten their duration. Here are some treatments that may be effective:

  • Oxygen. Inhaling pure oxygen through a mask provides relief for about 70% of sufferers in about 15 minutes.

  • Triptans. Taking sumatiptan, either by injection of via a nasal spray, has been shown to improve cluster symptoms

  • Hormone injection. Octreotide is a synthetic brain hormone, and can be an effective treatment.

  • Local anesthetics. Lidocaine, when sprayed into the nose, can ease cluster headache pain.

  • Natural medicines. Melatonin has shown some promise in treating night attacks.

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In addition to the measures already discussed there are two things that are easy to do that may help you to avoid a cluster attack once you have begun a cycle.

  1. Do not alter your regular sleep schedule.
  2. Do not consume alcohol.

Although cluster headaches only affect about 0.2% of the population, their severity causes sufferers to completely alter their normal lifestyle. So even though their cause is unknown and there is no cure, it is important for those experiencing them to try all possible means of reducing their pain and decreasing the length of an attack.


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