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Don't Put Your Life on Hold for Cluster Headaches

For many, headaches are a minor annoyance that will either pass on their own or with a little help from some ibuprofen. However, this is not the case for everyone. Many people suffer from cluster headaches. If you don’t know how to get rid of cluster headaches and feel defeated, you are not alone.


Many who suffer from this condition know it is one of the most painful and debilitating conditions that you can have. When these cluster headaches arrive, the pain is excruciating and can last up to three hours. They are frequent and can recur for months at a time.

Here at Miologi, our goal is to bring you the most reliable information available. 

Cluster Headache Overview

A cluster headache is a condition that causes slight but severely painful headaches that occur daily for several weeks or even months at a time. Most people experience them around similar times each year. The pain typically focuses around the eye area.


While doctors do not know what exactly causes these, they do know that a nerve in the face is involved. This nerve is what causes excruciating pain around the eyes. Sufferers of both say that cluster headaches don't last as long as migraines, though they are more painful.


Thankfully, these are rare, only about one in every thousand people experience them. Men are also more likely to be diagnosed, and diagnosis usually comes before 30.

What is a Cluster Headache?

A cluster headache occurs when a particular nerve in your head is activated. A signal from your hypothalamus signals the trigeminal nerve, which controls sensations in your face. This nerve is responsible for hot and cold feelings.


A cluster headache is unique because of its:

  • Speed: Cluster headaches come on extremely fast, often reaching max pain in 5-10 minutes.
  • Pain: There is almost always excruciating pain, generally focused on one side of your head, that keeps you from all activities. Sufferers have described the pain as piercing, burning, or stabbing. The pain may move from your eye to other areas of your head, and your scalp may be sensitive.
  • Duration: Cluster headaches are generally brief, only lasting 30 minutes to three hours. Typically they appear once a day but can be more or less depending on the person.
  • Consistent: Cluster headaches appear to be synced to your body’s internal clock and happen around the same time every day, either night or day.
  • Regular: Typically, a headache will appear daily for weeks or months, then disappear for weeks or months at a time.

  • During a cluster headache, several symptoms may appear:

    • Extreme pain that keeps you from daily activities
    • Burning or piercing sensation
    • Swelling in your eye, or drooping
    • Decreased pupil
    • Red and watery eye
    • A face that feels hot or warm
    • Sweating
    • Sensitivity to light

    Cluster Headache Diagnosis

    To diagnose a cluster headache, a doctor will want to meet with you and discuss your symptoms, including the location, severity, and frequency of the pain. There are also tests available for a more accurate diagnosis.


    A neurological exam, including tests of brain function, as well as your senses and nerves, can show physical signs. An imaging test, like a CT scan or MRI, can help in the presence of abnormal symptoms, and to rule out other conditions.

    Cluster Headache Treatments

    If you suffer from cluster headaches, you do not have to suffer without help. There are many options available to relieve, or even prevent cluster headaches.

    Medication

    When a headache occurs, there are medications you can take to help relieve the pain immediately. Triptans, like Sumatriptan and Zolmitriptan, are generally the preferred way to treat pain. However, other options like dihydroergotamine (formulated from the ergot fungus), as well as lidocaine and oxygen can help relieve symptoms.


    There are also preventative medicines you can take to stop a cluster headache from developing. These medications, like corticosteroids, can also decrease the length severity of an attack should one occur.

    Occipital Nerve Block

    For this treatment, your doctor will inject a combination of anesthetic and steroid directly into the nerve at the base of your skull. This type of treatment is only temporary, though, and does not prevent future headaches.

    Nerve Stimulation

    If you don't respond to medication, your doctor might recommend occipital nerve stimulation. An option would be for your doctor to schedule a surgery to implant a device that will deploy electrical impulses directly into the nerves that cause cluster headaches.


    There are also less invasive options, like Cefaly and gammaCore, both of which can be attached to your body and easily removed. They will both send signals to your nerves to control a cluster headache.

    Lifestyle Changes

    There are a few things you can do in your daily life to prevent cluster headaches from occurring. Getting enough sleep is essential. Track your sleep and ensure you are getting a full eight hours every night.


    Alcohol has been known to set off cluster headaches. Avoiding all types of alcohol, including beer, wine, and liquor, can keep you from suffering another cluster headache.

    Alternative Treatment Options

    While new ways of treating cluster headaches are always being explored, a few things have shown promise. Capsaicin in a nasal spray has been shown to help. Melatonin has also been used to reduce the number of cluster headaches.

    Surgery

    The last resort will be surgery. Typically, surgery required deep brain stimulation, in which an electrode was placed in the brain to control the nerve. There are less invasive options today with which many people have seen great success. The basic idea is to block the trigeminal nerve. There are risks to any surgery, so speak to your doctor if you have tried everything else.

    Final Remarks

    If you have been suffering from cluster headaches, you might feel alone and helpless. While no one knows how to get rid of cluster headaches, there are ways to live a full life today. Finding a community of support is essential to surviving and thriving through any disease.

    At Miologi, we work by bringing you support and information to help you manage your pain and symptoms.