The Experience of a
Cluster Headache

If you do not know what a cluster headache is, then think of the last time you encountered the pain of a migraine, and multiply that pain by ten.  Maybe this is the reason why cluster headaches are sometimes referred to as “suicide headaches”, as many sufferers actually consider committing suicide to relieve them from the pain.

A Cluster Headache

In every 1000 people, only 1 person will experience a cluster headache and that person will most probably be a male. The male-to-female ratio in cluster headaches is about 6:1 and they usually occur between the ages of 20 – 45 years old and are mostly smokers.

Cluster headaches occur cyclically, hence the name. Each cluster can last from 15 minutes up to several hours, and in the majority cases, do not last more than an hour. Patients will usually suffer from one to three clusters each day.

Clusters Differ From Migraines - Unlike migraines which cause a throbbing pain, cluster headaches cause a continuous pain. The pain often starts around the eye, and may then spread out towards other parts of the head, including the face and down to the neck and shoulders. The pain usually remains on one side of the head in which the eye of that side becomes watery and tearful and starts to become red. The whole face will usually turn pale and become sweaty, and there may be swelling around the eye, on the side which is in pain.

Some More Bad News - The bad news for people who suffer from cluster headaches, is that there is no complete cure. Modern therapy aims to alleviate some of the symptoms, shorten the periods of the headaches and lower their frequency.  

Due to the fact that the sharp pain usually only lasts for 15-20 minutes, the common aspirin or well known pain killers do not have enough time to act, therefore are ineffective. This is why most of the research, medications and treatments for cluster headaches are mostly concentrated on the prevention of the headache, rather than the actual treatment itself.

Treating Attacks - There is however two methods that are fast-acting and that are usually used for treating cluster headaches. The first is the use of 100% oxygen inhaler masks. Most patients find that if they breathe in oxygen through a mask, they experience significant relief of symptoms within 10-15 minutes.  

There is one disadvantage of this method however in that the patient has to have an oxygen cylinder and regulator close by. There are smaller units available in the market, but this therapy basically postpones symptoms rather than alleviating them. There is also a second therapy which is an injectable sumatriptan (limitrex) drug. Patients with high blood pressure or heart problems should not take this drug. Other drugs are also available, but you should always consult your doctor for professional advice.

Cluster Attack Triggers - Unfortunately there are not many treatments that are effective when it comes to cluster headaches, but you can reduce the number of attacks that occur. The majority of sufferers of cluster headaches claim that alcohol is a key trigger. As shown in other researches, the majority of patients who suffer from cluster headaches are smokers. You have just been given one more reason to stop smoking if you’re a smoker! 

A short video with real life experiences from cluster headache sufferers:

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NOTE: If you would like to add comments on the above article or if you have any personal opinions and experiences about cluster headaches, we would be grateful and honored if you shared your thoughts and ideas in the "comment" section below. 

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