What is a Cluster Headache? Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Have you ever felt extremely severe pain on one side of your head or around your eyes?

Chances are, you are experiencing what is known as a ‘cluster headache’.

Unlike a normal headache, cluster headaches come in irregular frequencies and can last anywhere from weeks to months or even years.

While this condition is rare, it can be one of the most painful headaches you can ever experience. In fact, many have even called it the ‘suicide headache’.

Luckily for everyone, this type of headache is not life-threatening.

Curious? Read more to learn about cluster headaches and how it is different from your typical headaches or migraines.

How Many Types of Cluster Headaches Are There?

Firstly, you should know that there are two types of cluster headaches.

Chronic Cluster Headaches

With a chronic cluster headache, you will generally experience reoccurring headaches for longer than a year.

This is followed by a period of remission (or pain-free periods), for no more than a month. The cycle will then repeat itself again.

Episodic Cluster Headache

The next type is called an episodic cluster headache, which is what most people have.

Episodic cluster headaches vary in length. It can last as short as a week or as long as a year, at most.

Episodic cluster headaches are also followed by a pain-free period, which can go on for a month or longer.

What are the Characteristics of a Cluster Headache?

During a cluster period, you can expect to experience the characteristics listed below:

  • an attack lasts from 15 minutes to 3 hours

  • occurs daily

  • each headache occurs around the same time every day

What are the Symptoms of Cluster Headaches?

symptoms cluster headache

Cluster headaches typically attack the same side of your head each time. This pain can also be felt around your eyes as well. These attacks often occur suddenly and without warning.

Below are some of the common symptoms of a cluster headache:

  • one-sided pain

  • eye pain

  • nasal congestion or runny nose

  • red and/or watery eyes

  • restlessness or agitation

  • swelling eyelids

  • drooping eyelids

  • sweating

With any symptoms, they tend to overlap with various other conditions. As such, we highly recommend you seek a medical professional for an official diagnosis.

Are Cluster Headaches and Normal Headaches the Same?

No, cluster headaches and normal headaches are not the same. Thankfully, it is easy to differentiate between the two!

For one, the pain of cluster headaches can be so severe that you will require professional help. For some, its’ excruciating pain that can even wake you up from sleep!

Notably, people have described the feeling as a sharp, burning, or throbbing sensation on one side of the head.

What Causes Cluster Headaches?

severe headache

The cause of cluster headaches has been suggested to be linked to the expansion of blood vessels in the brain from an activity in the hypothalamus, the region of the brain which controls our body’s inner balance.

We are still unable to identify the exact cause of why this happens. Thus, unfortunately, there is no medical cure for cluster headaches.

One cause is that the hypothalamus is interfered with by misalignments of the spine, particularly at the top of the neck (C1 and C2). These spinal bones have the spinal cord passing through, which connects directly to the hypothalamus via the brain stem. Therefore, if there is irritation of the spinal cord, this can impact the hypothalamus and it’s blood vessels.

Risk Factors

While we can’t be certain about the exact causes, there are several risk factors linked to getting these painful headaches:

  • Sex: Males are more prone to getting cluster headaches.

  • Hereditary factors: Those whose families have a history of cluster headaches will be at higher risk of getting them too.

A common finding in patients with cluster headaches are a history of traumas or head injuries, particularly to the neck or head.

Certain lifestyle habits can worsen the symptoms of cluster headaches. For example, poor posture, excessive time on phones or looking at screens, drinking alcohol, smoking, and excessive body heat from strenuous activities can all trigger cluster headaches.

But if you avoid these triggers, the frequency and intensity of cluster periods can definitely reduce in the long run.

How are Cluster Headaches Treated?

getting cluster headaches diagnosed

Although cluster headaches are not life-threatening, it can cause severe pain and extreme discomfort. This may disrupt the activities in your daily life.

Treating cluster headaches usually entails managing the pain and preventing cluster headaches from recurring.

On top of avoiding the headache triggers, doctors can prescribe you an array of treatments to relieve or prevent cluster headache attacks.

Medication

For one, doctors would administer pain medications to help treat the occurrence of a cluster headache. This may include:

  • oxygen therapy

  • nasal sprays

  • injected medication

  • specialised creams

That being said, medications are only effective in treating your symptoms rather than the root cause of the cluster headache. Due to the intensity of the pain, the medications commonly aren’t effective, especially for chronic patients.

To prevent cluster headache pain from occurring in the first place, preventive medications are used instead. These treatments involve:

  • blood pressure medication

  • steroid medication

  • lithium carbonate

  • muscle relaxants

Although these methods may help to some degree, total prevention cannot be guaranteed.

Surgery

If all else fails, doctors may recommend surgery. It is offered as the very last option in case you do not respond to the treatments above.

But don’t worry! Doctors rarely ever resort to surgery.

Chiropractic Treatment

Other than medications or surgery, you can also opt for Chiropractic treatment.

Chiropractic treatment has been used to treat many different conditions, including headaches, migraines and cluster headaches.

This is done through targeted adjustments of the neck, or spine. This helps to correct the misalignments which are causing problems in the spinal cord and hypothalamus. These misalignments don’t just affect the nerves, they also are detrimental to blood vessels, which can trigger cluster headaches. Chiropractic adjustments correct the cause of the problem,, which can reduce your headache pains.

Manage and Prevent Cluster Headaches with Vitality's Professional Chiropractic Services!

Chiropractic Adjustment, Massage Therapist, Massaging, Shoulder, Recovery

While painful, cluster headaches generally do not pose a threat to your life.

If you find that common treatments are not working, Chiropractic care might be a good fit for you.

At Vitality Chiropractic Centres, our specialist services are dedicated to helping you manage your headaches as well as other health concerns!

Here at Vitality Chiropractic Centres, we perform unique tests and scans using the latest technology to accurately identify your source of pain.

Once in our care, our Doctors will carefully yet precisely administer Chiropractic adjustments to correct the cause of the problem and help you manage your pain.

On top of that, we are the first Chiropractors in Southeast Asia to carry out this Upper Cervical Specific Chiropractic care! Put simply; it is especially helpful if you suffer from headache pains.

So, what are you waiting for?

Book an appointment with Vitality Chiropractic Centres today to learn how we can help you take your life back by managing your cluster headaches!

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