Cluster headaches come on suddenly, causing an intense pain in the head and often, specifically in and around one of your eyes.
While they can affect people of any age, they tend to crop up more in men over the age of 20 and smokers are at a higher risk of developing them.
If you’re experiencing cluster headaches, don’t delay - speak to a doctor online now.
Our GPs can talk through your symptoms, diagnose whether they’re being caused by cluster headaches and if needed, prescribe medication to help you tackle the problem.
What causes cluster headaches?
It’s not currently known what causes cluster headaches, but research has shown a link to a nerve in your face (the trigeminal nerve), which is thought to be behind the eye pain this condition typically causes.
Cluster headaches can be as bad - if not worse than migraines, and are often so painful that sufferers can’t sit still or lie down during an attack. Fortunately, they don’t tend to last as long as migraines.
They’re quite rare and tend to affect men over the age of 20. Cluster headaches can come and go, with people experiencing repeated bouts of headaches before being free of them for months or even years at a time before they return.
Symptoms of cluster headaches
Cluster headaches have noticeably different symptoms from migraines and regular headaches.
They tend to come on very suddenly, reaching their peak within a matter of minutes and will affect one side of the face. Pain usually centres around one eye, although this can spread to other areas like the side of your head, face and even gums.
Other common symptoms include:
- Sweating, particularly in the face
- A runny or blocked nostril
- Redness in the ear
- A dilated pupil in one eye
- A bloodshot or watering eye
Cluster headache attacks typically last for less time than migraines and may be over in as little as 15 minutes, or take upwards of an hour.
They seem to take place alongside your sleep cycle and may happen at exactly the same time every day. People with the condition usually experience attacks for a couple of weeks or months, before being free of pain for weeks, months or even years before the headaches return.
Treating and managing cluster headaches
You should speak to a doctor as soon as possible if you think you’re experiencing cluster headaches. It’s important to seek help quickly as similar symptoms might be caused by more serious conditions and a brain scan might be required to rule these out.
Unfortunately, over-the-counter painkillers won’t be enough to tackle the pain associated with cluster headaches and you’ll usually need to see a specialist to discuss treatment options.
While there’s no cure, medication or techniques used to treat migraines are often used for cluster headaches. These include sumatripan injections or nasal sprays and oxygen therapy, where you’ll breathe in pure oxygen through a specialist mask.
A range of techniques are also recommended for preventing the onset of cluster headaches, which can include various types of medication, a local anaesthetic and direct nerve stimulation.
The effectiveness of these can differ on a case-to-case basis, and it’s common to try a few out before finding one that suits you.
Speak to a doctor about cluster headaches
If you think you’ve suffered a cluster headache attack - don’t delay, speak to a doctor online now.
Our doctors can discuss your symptoms, diagnose whether you are experiencing cluster headaches and if needed, refer you on to a specialist for testing or the next stage of treatment.
Updated: January 5, 2021