Cluster headaches are a series of cyclical headaches that are short-lived but extremely painful. They occur every day for weeks or months without any proper cause associated with such occurrences.
A cluster headache is commonly characterized by intense pain in and around one eye or headache on one side. Such headaches are more severe than migraines but usually do not last long. Bouts of frequent attacks, called cluster periods, can last from weeks to months, generally followed by remission periods when the headaches stop. During remission, no headaches occur for months and sometimes even years.
This is a rare problem, affecting less than one in a thousand people. Men are more prone to getting cluster headaches than women and usually start experiencing them before 30 years of age.
What are the symptoms of cluster headaches?
A cluster headache starts suddenly without any prior indication or sign of such an occurrence. You might sometimes experience migraine-like nausea and discomfort. The common symptoms associated during the cluster headache include –
● Excruciating pain in the left side of the head or behind one eye which may radiate to other parts of the face, neck, and head
● Sweating and restlessness
● Congested and runny nose
● Watering and redness of the eye
● Contraction of the pupil in the eye
● Red and warm face with pale skin
● Drooping eyelids with swollen eyes
● Facial swelling on the affected side
In addition to the above symptoms, you may also experience migraine-like symptoms such as sensitivity to sound and light, though usually on the affected side.
What are the causes of cluster headaches?
Though the exact reason behind the occurrence of cluster headaches is unknown, experts believe that an abnormality in the body’s biological clock, i.e., the hypothalamus plays a role. However, unlike migraines, cluster headaches are not associated with hormonal changes, food, or stress.
If you are in the middle of a cluster period engaging in any of these acts can trigger a headache on one side. This includes –
● Smoking cigarettes.
● Drinking alcohol
● Inhaling strong smells.
Other possible causes or triggers include consuming medicines such as nitroglycerin, a drug used to treat heart disease.
What are the complications associated with cluster headaches?
A cluster headache is not life-threatening and does not pose any potential threat of brain damage. However, they are chronic and recurrent, which may adversely affect your work and lifestyle.
What are the possible risk factors?
Several factors increase the risk of getting cluster headaches some of which are as follows –
● Men are more prone to getting cluster headaches than women.
● People aged between 20 to 50 years are more likely to get these headaches.
● Cluster headaches are commonly observed among smokers. However, quitting smoking usually does not have any effect on such headaches.
● If you have a family history of cluster headaches, there is a chance of you getting the same.
● Consuming alcohol during cluster periods may increase the risk of getting a headache.
What is the treatment for cluster headaches?
While there is no permanent cure for cluster headaches since the cause of such occurrences is unknown, the attempt is to decrease the severity of the pain and prevent frequent recurrence.
These treatment options are useful when a headache occurs.
Inhaling pure oxygen through a mask provides helpful results for cluster headaches. The only drawback with this treatment is the inability to carry an oxygen cylinder or a portable unit with you everywhere.
These are available in injectable form or nasal sprays and are effective for the treatment of acute cluster headache. Sumatriptan injections or Zolmitriptan nasal sprays are commonly administered.
● Local anesthetics
Local anesthetics such as lidocaine when given intranasally reduces the headache.
This is a synthetic injectable version of the somatostatin hormone in the brain, is used as treatment for cluster headaches but less effective than triptans for some people.
This prescription medication is based on the ergot fungus and has been useful for some people with cluster headaches as an injection.
If no medication or treatment options work, then surgery is the last resort. Some of the surgical methods include the Sphenopalatine ganglion stimulation and the Noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation. Most of these surgical treatments involve blocking the trigeminal nerve that controls the area around the eyes.
For more information on the various treatment methods, you can get in touch with a healthcare expert.
What are preventive treatment measures for Cluster Headaches?
These treatment options are used to shorten the length and severity of the headache:
● Corticosteroids such as prednisone
● Ergotamine tartrate
● Lithium Carbonate
● Occipital nerve block combined with Verapamil
What are some precautionary measures for cluster headaches?
While there is no exact preventive measure for cluster headache as the real reason behind their occurrence is unknown, you can always follow specific precautionary measures to reduce the severity.
● Maintain a regular sleep schedule. An irregular routine is likely to kick-off a headache.
● Consuming alcohol can trigger headaches if you are in a cluster period.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
● What is the leading cause of cluster headaches?
The headache pattern for cluster headaches indicates that such occurrences might be due to any abnormalities in the biological clock of the body. However, no exact cause has been attributed to such occurrences.
● What is the best treatment for cluster headaches?
The best treatment option for cluster headaches depends on the severity of the pain. Acute treatment options include local anesthetics, inhaling pure oxygen, using triptans, dihydroergotamine, and octreotide.
For preventive treatment options, the use of calcium channel blockers is the first preference. If such a treatment option does not work, then lithium carbonate , steroids or nerve blocking techniques may be undertaken.
For people with chronic cluster headaches, who do not find any relief with these treatment options, surgery may be the best option.
● Are cluster headaches worse than migraines?
Cluster headaches are often more severe than migraines but do not last long. Unlike migraines, cluster headaches have a characteristic pattern of attacks. However, the location and severity of the headache may vary for different persons.
● Do cluster headaches go away?
Fortunately, cluster headaches are rare and often short-lived. Most of the time, they get cured without any medical attention but may recur after months or years without any prior indication. Severe and chronic cases of cluster headaches may require surgery.
● How do you get rid of a cluster headache fast?
The fast-working treatments for cluster headaches include inhaling pure oxygen, using the triptans, octreotide, dihydroergotamine, or local anesthetics.