A Yale Medicine physician discusses cluster headaches and how they differ from migraines and tension headaches.

Cluster headaches can cause pain comparable to passing a kidney stone or delivery.

The disorder's name comes from the fact that headache attacks occur in clusters, frequently at the same time(s) of day. For those who suffer from episodic cluster headaches, episodes come at the same time every year.

Unfortunately, many people are not adequately diagnosed with cluster headaches, and even when they are, cluster headache treatment options are limited and may not suit everyone.

Read on to learn more about cluster headaches and how they differ from other, more prevalent headache diseases.

What does a cluster headache attack feel like?
A cluster headache attack begins quickly and causes significant pain on one side of the head, near the eye, lasting 15 minutes to three hours. Other symptoms may include tearing, redness of the eye, a drooping eyelid, and a stuffy nose. It might happen on a regular or almost daily basis for weeks, months, or even years.

Headache attacks can occur up to eight times each day, although most individuals experience them twice a day and commonly at night, with a headache that wakes them up from sleep.

What is the difference between cluster headache, migraine, and tension-type headache?
Migraine is one of the most common headache diseases. It affects roughly 15% of the population and, like cluster headaches, runs in families. In contrast to cluster attacks, migraines endure many hours and are frequently accompanied by light and sound sensitivity, nausea, and, in some cases, vomiting. There are several migraine therapies available, but not all of them are helpful.

Although migraines are well-known, tension-type headaches are the most prevalent, affecting up to 80% of people at some point in their lives. This feels like a squeezing discomfort around your head after a long day. These headaches are typically not an issue unless they become chronic.

How do I know if I have a cluster headache disorder?
A doctor diagnoses cluster headaches after reviewing the details of the headache attacks and ruling out other possible causes. Unless someone has experienced cluster headaches for a long time, all of these individuals should get brain imaging to ensure that no abnormality or condition is mimicking the symptoms of a headache illness.

What are the treatments for cluster headaches?
Headache problems are primarily treated in two ways: acute treatments that target the specific headache attack and preventative treatments that minimize the frequency and severity of subsequent attacks.

High-flow oxygen is the gold standard for treating cluster headaches in their acute stage. This entails inhaling oxygen at 10 to 15 liters per minute with a non-rebreather mask (a medical device that aids in oxygen delivery).

High-flow oxygen can be beneficial in approximately 75% of cluster headache patients and can be administered at home, but there are various challenges to getting this critical treatment.
Insurance coverage for home oxygen is not universal, and some patients are denied coverage despite sending scientific literature and doctor's letters to the business.

Other acute therapy options include triptan medicines such as sumatriptan (brand name Imitrex®) and zolmitriptan (brand name Zomig®), which are also used to treat migraines. Triptans for cluster headaches must be delivered as a nasal spray or injection just beneath the skin to enter the body fast.

Anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen, are ineffective in treating cluster headaches, especially when given orally.

Cluster headache prevention treatments include verapamil (brand name Verelan®), a blood pressure-lowering drug, and galcanezumab (brand name Emgality®). Steroids, such as prednisone, and injections of dihydroergotamine (DHE), a migraine drug, are two more treatments that can shorten a cluster cycle or cause a period of remission in chronic cluster headaches.

Author's Bio: 

I am Amelia Grant, a journalist, and blogger. I think that information is a great force that is able to change people’s lives for the better. That is why I feel a strong intention to share useful and important things about health self-care, wellness, and other advice that may be helpful for people. Being an enthusiast of a healthy lifestyle that keeps improving my life, I wish the same for everyone.

Our attention to ourselves, to our daily routine and habits, is very important. Things that may seem insignificant, are pieces of a big puzzle called life. I want to encourage people to be more attentive to their well-being, improve every little item of it and become healthier, happier, and stronger. All of us deserve that. And I really hope that my work helps to make the world better.