Cluster headaches involves agonizing episodes of pain occurring on one side of the head, usually felt around the eye. Individuals at any age can be affected but prevalent among men and usually develop among those over the age of 20 years old.
The exact cause could not be determined but might be linked to an activity in the hypothalamus. Those who smoke seem to face a higher risk. Some tend to run in families which indicates a genetic connection.
What are the indications?
Cluster headaches start abruptly and without warning. The pain can be intense and often describe as a sharp, piercing or burning sensation on one side of the head. The pain is usually felt around the eye, temple and oftentimes the face and recurs on the same side during each attack.
The individual feels agitated and restless during an attack due to the intense pain and react by pacing or banging the head against the wall. In every episode, there is at least one of the following associated symptoms:
- Drooping and swelling of one eyelid
- Red and watery eye
- Sweaty face
- Smaller pupil in one eye
- Red ear
- Blocked or runny nose
The episodes usually last between 15 minutes up to 3 hours and occur between 1-8 times throughout the day.
When to seek medical care
A doctor should be consulted as soon as possible upon the first episode of a possible cluster headache. The doctor will ask about the symptoms and tests are carried out.
A brain scan is required in some individuals to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms to cluster headaches.
If diagnosed with cluster headaches, a specialist should be seen such as a neurologist regarding suitable treatment options.
Cluster headaches are not dangerous but can cause significant discomfort and drastically affect the quality of life. With this in mind, it is vital to consult a doctor so that effective treatment options can be given.
The episodes could not be treated using over-the-counter pain medications such as paracetamol since they are slow to take any effect.
The 3 main treatments to provide pain relief once the episodes start include the following:
- Sumatriptan injections are usually given 2 times a day
- Oxygen therapy involves breathing in pure oxygen via a mask
- Sumatriptan or zolmitriptan nasal spray can be used by those who do not want injections
It is important to note that these treatments typically relieve the pain of cluster headaches within 15-30 minutes.