Headaches that recur two to three times during a short period of time are known as cluster headaches. This may last for few weeks, to months. These headaches often occur after sleep and recur throughout the day. It usually appears during the same time of the year, or season of the year. It may disappear for months together and then recur afterwards. Cluster headaches are more severe than migraines, but are not as common as migraines.
The actual cause of cluster headaches is not known. Activation of the nerves at the base of the brain is supposed to result in headaches. Eye pain, which is common in cluster headaches, is caused by the activation of the trigeminal nerve. This may also result in tearing, nasal congestion, and nasal discharge. Headaches can be triggered by a number of factors, especially during spring and autumn. Smoking and alcohol abuse increases the risk of developing cluster headaches. This is particularly true of the cluster periods when the headache occurs. Once the headaches go into a remission period, having alcohol may not trigger headaches as such.
The symptoms become fully active within a few minutes of the onset of the headache. The pain is usually felt on one side of the head, and it remains on the same side during the cluster period. The most characteristic symptom of a cluster headache is the severe, piercing kind of pain in the head. In some people, it is felt as a throbbing pain, while some others feel it as a constant pain. The pain may be felt behind the eye, which may spread to the forehead, nose, cheek, or the upper parts of the gum. The duration of the pain usually lasts for about an hour and a half. The pain disappears after this period, and then recurs later during the day. Some people may have up to three episodes of headaches in a day.
There are clear warning signs of the approaching headaches in many people:
- A burning sensation on one side or discomfort
- Swelling or drooping of eyes on one side
- Nasal congestion or discharge on one side
- Excessive sweating
- Sensitivity to light
Cluster headaches are often treated with abortive medications, preventive medications, and in some cases, surgery. The duration of the cluster headaches can be reduced by using preventive medications. Surgery is recommended only for those who have had little to no relief from the standard treatment methods. In any case, medications should be taken only after a thorough discussion with a healthcare professional.