One in six people suffer from chronic headaches each year. While many of us are all too familiar with migraine and tension headaches, the term “cluster headache” is relatively obscure. Yet the Cleveland Clinic asserts that cluster headaches can be more bothersome than migraines, and are often misdiagnosed. While treatable with the help of a headache specialist, it’s clear that this debilitating head pain is not your typical headache.
Cluster headaches are different from migraines and tension headaches because symptoms include a very intense sharp, one-sided head pain usually accompanied with watery, burning eyes, while other chronic headaches are typically described as a throbbing pain. While the true biomedical cause is unknown, many attribute cluster headaches to their triggers: alcohol, tobacco, bright lights, exertion, heat, high altitudes and some medications. The name “cluster” refers to the frequency of cluster headaches, as attacks can occur in clusters up to eight times a day. Migraine and tension headaches can also last much longer, but with less intensity.
The structure of a cluster headache is much different from other chronic headaches, which is perhaps why they are so often misdiagnosed as summer allergies or sinus infections. Dr. Grosberg advises to see your doctor if you think you’re experiencing cluster headache symptoms, and expect to be referred to a headache specialist.
While many people affected with cluster headaches simply grow out of them, the Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding the triggers that initiate the headache in the first place. It’s not a coincidence that many who suffer from cluster headaches are tobacco and alcohol users, and should avoid these substances even when not suffering from any symptoms. In more severe cases, oxygen and medications used to treat migraines can be used to treat cluster headaches, as prescribed by a doctor.