Cluster headaches affect one side of the head and may be associated with tears and nasal congestion. They occur in clusters, happening repeatedly every day, at the same time for several weeks and then remitting. Most sufferers of cluster headaches complain of one to four headaches a day during a cluster period.
One of the most severe types of headaches, cluster headaches has the potential of being as much as double the intensity of a migraine attack.
Types of Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches are normally of two types:
• Episodic: This kind of headache occurs daily for one week to one year, followed by a pain-free remission period that lasts for weeks to years before another cluster period begins.
• Chronic: This form of cluster headache occurs daily for more than a year with no remission or with pain-free periods lasting less than two weeks.
Symptoms of Cluster Headache
The headache in this condition has typical defining symptoms. Here we list the main characteristics of a headache in this condition:
• Begins suddenly
• Commonly begins 2 to 3 hour hours after falling asleep
• Is of steady, burning and boring nature
• Pain may also occur in and around one eye
• May involve one side of the face from neck to temples
• Pain quickly gets worse, peaking within 5 to 10 minutes
Other symptoms include:
• Swelling under or around the eyes
• Excessive tears
• Redness in the eye
• Rhinorrhea or nasal congestion
• Red, flushed face
Causes of Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches are generally not related to other illnesses or diseases of the brain, nor are these associated to hereditary reasons.
Research indicates the following to be the reasons for cluster headaches:
• Medications, such as nitroglycerin
• Heavy smoking
• Interruption in the normal sleep pattern
• Problems with the hypothalamus (that controls the body’s biological clock)
• Increased sensitivity of nerve pathways
Treatment of Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches are treated in accordance with the severity of symptoms. Your healthcare provider will normally prescribe one of the below methods:
A) Abortive medicines
This category of medicines is used once the episode has started. These medicines are available in different types of formulations, such as nasal sprays and injections. The main medications in this category include:
B) Preventive medicines
These medicines help preventing future attacks of cluster headaches and include:
• Ergotamine tartrate
• Lithium carbonate
• Divalproex Sodium
• Histamine acid phosphate
This is an option for people with chronic cluster headaches who have not gained any relief from standard therapies. Most of the surgical procedures involve blocking of the trigeminal nerve.