Cluster headaches are intense headaches on one side of the head that occur as clusters or groups. The episodes span over weeks or months. This type of headache can cause significant pain that the daily activities of the individual are disrupted.
The episodes occur in cycles. Many individuals who experience cluster headaches experience one or two cluster periods in a year. Remember that a cluster period can last for a month or longer. After the cluster period ceases, there is no headache for months or years.
As one gets older, it is likely to have longer periods without headaches. At some point, the headaches no longer occur. Even though this headache can be quite scary, it will not cause lasting harm.
What are the causes?
Even experts are not certain regarding the exact cause of the cluster headaches. It is likely to run in families but it is not fully understood why some have them and others do not.
The characteristic symptom of cluster headaches is an intense burning or piercing pain on one side of the head. This pain radiates from the temple and eye. The eye can become watery, red or puffy. The eyelid might even droop along with a stuffed or runny nose on that side of the head.
The pain typically worsens rapidly in 5-10 minutes after the headache begins and can persist for 15 minutes or even longer. Cluster headaches can also occur at the same period of the day but can occur at any time. Remember that one can experience 1-8 episodes in a day.
Management of cluster headaches
Once an episode occurs, medications or oxygen can be given to alleviate the pain or stop a headache. These treatments can be used only if a headache is about to occur.
What to do if a cluster headache starts:
- Treatment must be started right away. Do not wait for the headache to worsen and take the medication as prescribed by the doctor.
- The individual should do what he/she feels best such as walk, sit, jog in place or stand. Remember that lying down can worsen the pain.
In case the treatment is not effective, consult a doctor so that an alternative can be started. It might take time to find the right treatment.
Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen are not effective for cluster headaches.