How To Understand Cluster Headache

A cluster headache is a form of primary headache that brings excruciating pain to the victim. Although it may sometimes co-exist with a migraine, special treatment and diagnosis is generally still required. Cluster headaches are often being confused with migraines; it is important to note that a cluster of migraines attacks during a bad run do not automatically mean that you are suffering from a cluster headache. In fact, a cluster headache is a different kind of headache altogether. Unfortunately, this kind of headache is not always being identified correctly even with its distinctive features. If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from this headache, then it is important to seek medical attention immediately for effective treatments. Home self-help treatments and OTC painkillers are generally not effective for this severe headache.

Identifying a Cluster Headache from Its Features

Learning to identify your headache early is the key achieving an effective treatment. If you read on, you will find that the features of cluster headaches are actually quite distinguishable. However, these may vary from attack to attack and from person to person. Not everybody will suffer from all the below features but they are generally the main ones to look out for.

Headaches Are Predictable

You should consider keeping track of the timing of your headache attacks. Cluster headaches generally occur at exactly the same time and each headache episode can have the same timing trends as well. For example, some people can predict their headaches accurately by following the seasons. If you are suffering from a cluster headache and you noticed that your headache episodes usually start in the first week of summer, then can most likely expect it to occur again in the next summer.

Pain Is Excruciating

Pain from this form of headache can always never be mild. The pain is only felt on one side of your head and is often on the right side. You can also feel the pain in and around your eye; this pain can sometimes feel like it is moving from behind the eye as if it is trying to push out the eye. In rare occasions, the pain can be felt in the temple area and can spread to other parts of the head. Unlike other headaches which can be throbbing, the pain from cluster headaches is stabbing and can come very quickly within minutes with no warnings. In short, the pain does not come on or worsen gradually as with other types of headaches.

Agitated and Restless Feeling

You can almost never be able to keep still if your cluster headache strikes – not even lying down on a bed which works for migraines. You may need to pace about holding your head in an uncontrolled manner and sometimes fresh cold air can offer slight relief. Due to the severe pain, you will become agitated and easily provoked. As such, it can be quite difficult for those who are trying to treat you.

Pain Is Short and Intermittent

When left untreated, the pain is generally short and last anything between 15 minutes to 3 hours. This is considered relatively short when compared to other headaches such as migraines which can last from 4 to 72 hours. The attack can occur once every other day up to 8 times a day and can occur during the night as well.

Symptoms Are One-sided

One of the distinguishable features is that the symptoms usually occur on one side of the head, with the other side feeling normal.

The Following are Some Common Symptoms that are Being Observed:

  • Teary red eye
  • Perspiration or flushing on one side of the forehead or face
  • Blocked or running nostril
  • Swelling and drooping eyelid
  • Eye pupil becomes smaller
  • One eye becomes more sensitive to light

Sometimes, it may be difficult to notice these symptoms by yourself; asking your partner to monitor them for you may be more effective.

Identifying the Type of Cluster Headache

In general, there are only 2 types of cluster headaches and they are distinguished based on the frequencies of the headache attacks.

Episodic Cluster : When the headache attacks cluster in episodic episodes lasting from 2 weeks to 6 months. This affects about 80 to 90 percent of the people suffering from this kind of headache. Each episode can occur about 2 to 3 times in a year and it usually occurs during the same time of each year.

Chronic Cluster : Occurs when the headache attacks do not have distinctive episodes and have random pain-free gaps. There are also no obvious patterns to the headache attacks and any remissions from attacks usually last less than 1 month. This kind of cluster affects about 20 to 30 percent of the people with this headache. Sometimes, people suffering from episodic cluster can gradually evolve into chronic and this cannot be predicted. The bad news is that chronic cluster is much more difficult to control and treat. Although these headaches are rare, it can still affect about 3 in every 1000 people in the world. Anybody can develop this kind of headache, but typically occurs in people aged between 20 to 40 years old. Men have a higher risk and are 5 times more likely to suffer from this headache as compared to women. Cluster headache patients are generally advised to find someone to help out with the treatment as they can help to monitor the symptoms.

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