Cluster headaches

Summary

Cluster headaches often occur at night and usually cause sudden pain on one side of your head – often around the eye.

They can happen several times a day for a period of time, then disappear for months or years.

If you get cluster headaches, try to identify the triggers and avoid those things. If they become a problem, see your doctor.

Symptoms

Cluster headaches usually cause sudden, extreme pain on only one side of your head, often around or behind the eye.

They often occur at night and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.

Cluster headaches may happen several times a day for 4 to 12 weeks, then disappear for months or years.

Related symptoms include a stuffy or runny nose, watery eyes and redness in your painful eye.

Causes

It isn't known what causes cluster headaches. They happen in men more often than women, and in middle-aged persons more than younger or older people. They don't seem to run in families, as migraines do.

Some people find certain things can trigger cluster headaches. These include:

  • alcohol
  • smoking
  • stress
  • bright or glaring lights
  • certain foods
  • lack of sleep.

Treatment

Self care

Try to identify what happens before cluster headaches start, then avoid those triggers in the future.

You can get painkillers from a pharmacy – but make sure you read the instructions and precautions carefully. Aspirin, ibuprofen or paracetamol usually don't help – because usually the headache goes away before the pill starts working.

When to see your doctor

If your cluster headaches are frequent or you can't control them by avoiding triggers, see your doctor. There are some quick-acting medicines that you can inhale or spray in your nose to help with the pain, and there are other medicines that can help prevent the next headache. Your doctor can prescribe these for you.

If you have pain in or around an eye that doesn't go away, see your doctor to make sure you don't have a vision problem such as glaucoma.

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