Dealing with Cluster Headaches
A rare and not life-threatening type of headache experienced by most people is the cluster headache, which is also one of the most painful headache types. They can occur in the eye, or around it, on one side of your head, and may be strong enough to wake you up at night. They may often occur frequently in what are called “cluster periods,” which may last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
What Are Symptoms of Cluster Headaches?
Cluster headaches tend to come on quickly, with no warning signs beforehand. Occasionally, one might experience an aura or nausea, as one might experience with a migraine. Typically, though, you’re likely to experience:
- A severe pain in, around or behind the eye
- This pain may also radiate to other parts of your head, face and neck
- Pain on one side of the head
- Excessive tearing
- The eye on the affected side is red / nose is stuffy or runny on affected side
- Sweating on the affected side, of your forehead or face
- Flushing or pale skin
- Swelling around the eye on the affected side of your face
- Drooping eyelid on the side affected
- Migraine-like light sensitivity and sound sensitivity, usually in one side0
How Long Can a Cluster Period Last?
Cluster headaches do not always persist for cluster periods and, in fact, experience cluster headaches in episodes, which occur for anywhere from a week to a year. This may be followed by a period of remission, with no pain for up to another year.
The typical length of a cluster period is between several weeks and several months. In some cases, the date the period starts and the overall duration can be consistent, sometimes even seasonally. A few things to note about cluster periods:
- Most painful attacks occur at night, about 1 to 2 hours after you go to bed
- The attacks tend to occur at the same time every day
- The headaches usually occur every day, often several times in the same day
- The headache may last from 15 minutes up to three hours
When Should You Speak to Your Doctor About a Cluster Headache?
If you’re experiencing cluster headaches in any way and for any duration, it’s safest to check with a doctor to ensure that there is no other outside cause or disorder, and to discover the best treatment. Seek emergency care if you have:
- A headache which is abrupt and severe, sometimes described as being like a thunderclap
- A headache which is sudden and severe, unlike any type of headache you’ve experienced before
- A headache resulting from a head injury, no matter how minor it might seem (especially if it grows worse)
- A headache that becomes worse as the days pass, and changes in pattern
- A headache accompanied by a stiff neck, fever, nausea or vomiting, mental confusion, numbness, seizures, fever or speaking difficulties
If you have an existing history of headaches, you should also consult with a physician if the headaches feel different or if the pattern of your headaches has changed.