Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are fairly rare and affect about 0.1% of the UK population which doesn’t sound much unless you that 1 in every 1000. These types of headaches tend to effect men more than women, however, research is showing the difference is narrowing. This type of headache are mostly experienced in our 30’s and 40’s.

They are called Cluster headaches due to the frequency they occur. They appear in clusters over a few weeks or even months at a time. Often described as a drilling sensation which causes extreme pain usually on one side of the head and around the eye region. Cluster headaches can last up to a period of 2 hours at a time. They can disappear completely for months or even years, but can come back without any warning.

So WHAT causes it?

It’s not fully understood what exactly causes cluster headaches, especially as they are not triggered by the same things that trigger migraines. However, it is thought to come from neurological abnormalities with the trigeminal nerve (a nerve on the side of your face in front of the ear) and the Hypothalamus (region in the brain with many functions including linking the nervous system to the endocrine system (hormones) and controls our biological clock). As a result, people who do not get the right amount of sleep can be more likely to suffer these types of headaches as well as suffering from them during season changes.


  • Begin quickly with no warning
  • Normally lasting 15 – 90 minutes but sometimes can last up to 3 hours
  • One headache a day, but some can experience up to three a day
  • One-sided, same side around the eye, the temple and sometimes into the face
  • Burning or piercing type pain
  • Throbbing or constant
  • Scalp can feel tender
  • Drooping and/or swelling of the eyelid, tearing watery eye on the same side as the headache
  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Agitation, pacing due to pain.


The website advises “that you should see your GP as soon as possible the first time you experience what you think may be a cluster headache”. Your diagnosis will be made based on your symptoms and how you respond to different treatments. You may be
referred to a neurologist who will clarify your diagnosis and prescribe appropriate
medication and to rule out any other conditions.

Living with cluster headaches

Living with cluster headaches can be difficult. The attacks can be unbearable and make you feel anxious and depressed and may affect your relationships, your work and quality of your life.
There are some possible triggers to be aware of and may possibly avoid if you can. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Weather changes
  • Strong smells
    Bright or flashing lights
  • Hot showers

Cluster headaches can begin when there are changes in your normal sleep routine, so try to stick to a routine. The hormone Melatonin has shown some effectiveness in treating night time attacks.

Although having regular massage may not relieve or change the pattern or intensity of your cluster headache, the stress and anxiety you may experience during an episode can be severe. Massage may help you relax and relieve some stress allowing you to better cope during this time.

All information contained in this post is for general guidance and information only. It should not be relied as a basis for planning medical care or as a substitute for specialist medical advice in each individual case.

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