Sometimes people get cluster headaches during cyclic periods in intervals. It is one of the most painful type of headache and because they often occur in the middle of the night, are often nicknamed “the alarm clock headache.” These headaches can cause really powerful pains in the areas of the eyes and may last weeks or months and then might subside for a while. They come in attacks but then after the cycle has gone through, a person may not experience another one for quite some time
The cluster headaches are a rare condition and aren’t life endangering but they can be intense. There is treatment that can be used to limit them and try to eliminate some of the painful effects. These headaches do often attack a person without any warning. However there are some symptoms that may be signs which can help a person know that one is coming on.
Symptoms and Sensations
Symptom include pain on one side, a spike in lacrimation, fatigue and restlessness, strong pains typically around the eye but also in other areas of the head, neck, face, and shoulders, a stuffy nose or more nasal secretions, redness of the eyes, swelling around the eye that is on the affected side, a drooping eyelid, pale and sweaty skin on the face, and a reduced size of the eye pupil.
Many might describe the pain of a cluster headache as penetrating, burning, and intense. Many even say it causes a sensation that feels like the eyeball might come out of place. In comparison with people who have migraines, those who have cluster headaches usually avoid being in a horizontal position because it intensifies the pain during the headache attack.
What They’re Like…
Cluster headaches have several characteristics. The series of attack may last anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks, often with headaches occurring every day and sometimes several times each day. These headaches may occur during particular seasons such as during spring or winter. One single attack of a headache may last about 15 minutes or even up to two hours. It’s common that the cluster headache occurs about two hours after a person lies down to go to sleep but they generally happen at the same time regardless of whether it is day or night.
There is no exact cause pinpointed as to what the cause of these are. It is believed that abnormalities in the brain’s hypothalamus may play a role in them. Since these headaches often occur at the certain times of the year and certain times of the day, it seems that the body’s internal biological clock is related and the hypothalamus is where it is located.
Triggers such as food, stress, or hormones which often cause tension headaches and migraines, cluster headaches do not typically correlate in the same way. When the cluster period does appear, alcohol consumption can stimulate the headaches so it is wise to avoid it. Another trigger might be drugs like nitroglycerin which are used for heart attack prevention purposes.
However, there are risk factors that might increase a person’s chances of having cluster headaches. Men typically are more common than women to have cluster headaches. Typically, people in their late 20s are the age at which cluster headaches start to appear though they can start at any time. Typically smokers are more likely to have cluster headaches and alcohol, as stated above, can cause an attack to begin. It is also a hereditary condition that can be passed on if a parent or close blood relative suffers cluster headaches.
Diagnosis of Cluster Headaches
Since cluster headaches have a cyclic type characteristic that seems the same every time a person has them, many diagnoses depend on that. However, an official diagnosis will be based on the location, pain, and intensity of the headaches. A person must fully be able to describe their symptoms. A visualization test such as an MRI or a neurological exam by healthcare professionals will help diagnose cluster headaches for sure.
As far as treatment goes for cluster headaches, there is no exact cure but there is a common goal to try to eliminate how severe the pain is, reduce the time frames and try to prevent the possibility of seizures. There are a few acute and preventative treatments.
Preventative treatments include nerve blocks, corticosteroids, calcium channel blockers, lithium carbonate, ergotamine, and melatonin.
Acute treatments will help provide relief faster but for a shorter time frame. If a person actually uses an oxygen mask to inhale for a short time frame, it will provide some relief. People may even try injections of triptans or octreotides. Triptans are a form of sumatriptan and are used for migraines. Octreotide is an injection that is made to act similar to somatostatin, which is a brain hormone. It’s also effective for people who have coronary heart disease or hypertension. Local anesthetics such as lidocaine can help. Also, dihydroergotamine is an acute treatment that can be injective, inhaled, or used intravenously.