Overview on cluster headaches

Cluster headaches can trigger intense episodes of pain in one side of the head, usually felt around the eye. This type of headache is considered rare. Any individual can experience an episode but likely to affect men and typically starts at the ages of 30s or 40s.

What are the signs?

Cluster headaches manifests abruptly and without any warning. The discomfort it causes can be intense and often described as burning, sharp or piercing on one side of the head. It is often experienced around the eye, temple and oftentimes the face. In addition, it tends to manifest on the same side during each episode.

The individual often feels restless and nervous during an episode due to the intense pain and might react by pacing, rocking or banging his/her head against the wall.

In most cases, at least any of these associated signs are present:

cluster headaches

The discomfort it causes can be intense and often described as burning, sharp or piercing on one side of the head.

  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Reddened and watery eye
  • Sweaty face
  • Drooping and inflammation of one eyelid
  • Smaller-sized pupil in one eye

The episodes typically last between 15 minutes up to 3 hours and might arise between 1-8 times in a day.

What are the causes?

The precise cause of cluster headaches remains uncertain but have been associated to activity in the hypothalamus in the brain.

Those who smoke appear to have a higher risk of experiencing cluster headaches. In some cases, there is a family history which indicates a hereditary connection.

In some cases, the episodes can be instigated by consumption of alcohol or inhaling certain smells such as paint, perfume or petrol.

Management of cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are not usually life-threatening but can cause intense pain and has an impact on the quality of life.

Over-the-counter pain medications are not effective since they are too slow to take any effect.

The main treatment options to alleviate the pain are started after an episode starts such as:

  • Sumatriptan injections
  • Sumatriptan or zolmitriptan nasal spray – this is an option for those who do not want injections
  • Oxygen therapy – the individual inhales pure oxygen via a facial mask

The treatment options typically alleviate the discomfort caused by cluster headaches within 15-30 minutes.

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