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  • Writer's picturePietro D'Urso

What are cluster headaches?

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

Cluster headaches are described as excruciating attacks of pain that can be felt on one side of the head, which will most commonly be felt around the eyes. These are very rare, but can unfortunately have a big impact on the suffers life.

Cluster headaches are most common in men and usually start between the age of 30-40, however they can affect anyone of any age. They begin quickly, often without any warning. The pain is described as a sharp, burning or piercing sensation, felt around the temple and eye area, but can sometime spread to the face. Unfortunately, you will likely have repeat attacks and will usually be felt in the same place each time.

People will often become very restless during the act due to the intensity of the pain. It is common for the headache to be accompanied by at least one of the follow symptoms:

  • Red and watery eye

  • Blocked or running nostril

  • Sweaty face

  • Swelling or drooping of the eyelid

  • Smaller pupil in one eye

These attacks will usually last between 15 minutes to 3 hours, and can often occur 1-8 times a day.

If you think that you are suffering from cluster headaches then it is a good idea to go and see your doctor. It is likely that they will refer you to have tests and rule out anything more concerning. Typically the head scans will come back normal!

The exact cause of a cluster headache is not clear, however there is thought to be a link between the headaches and a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a small part of the brain that is responsible for regulating your bodies temperatures and hormone levels.

Research has shown that smokers are at a higher risk of cluster headaches. There is also evidence to suggest that cluster headaches can run in the family and have a genetic link.

Attacks can sometimes be triggered by consuming alcohol, smoking or strong smells such as perfume or petrol. If you notice a trigger, then it is a good idea to avoid that activity.

Attacks or bouts often last between 4-12 weeks before they settle down. During this period, the headaches will usually occur at the same time each day. There can be a number of months or even years between the bouts, however they will usually occur at the same sort of time of year.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.

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