Cluster headaches can be debilitating and affect a person’s work or lifestyle. These are often described as the most severe pain a human being can experience, even more than childbirth. Remedies involve treatments to reduce the pain and severity of this affliction, as there is no known cure for it as yet.
A cluster headache, sometimes called ‘histamine headache’, is characterized by excruciating pain that occurs in a pattern. These headaches usually occur frequently for a period of time, known as cluster periods, and then stop completely for a stretch of time. The attacks could last for 15 minutes or three hours or more, and often occur at the same time each day, for a period of several weeks. The cluster period itself could last for a week or month, and then be followed by a headache-free period lasting weeks, months, or years. It is common for people to have one or two cluster periods a year.
A cluster headache will appear suddenly and with much severity. A person usually experiences searing pain on one side of the head, or around the eye, causing it to tear. The pain may radiate from the neck to the temples. This kind of severe pain can cause the region around the eye to swell, and the nose to run. The headache, often described as the worst type, most commonly strikes 2 to 3 hours after falling asleep, and can awaken a person with a start, consequently being referred to as ‘alarm clock headaches’.
As there is no treatment for this condition, the best option is to learn how to live with it. Any treatment given is to reduce the severity of the pain and shorten the headache period. Because of the severity of the pain, regular over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen do not work.
One safe treatment that offers relief to many is inhaling 100% (pure) oxygen. This is especially effective for frequent cluster headaches that occur at night. The treatment options include the use of triptan medications, such as the injectable form of sumatriptan (Imitrex), which are commonly used to treat migraines. Other medications, such as dihydroergotamine and octreotide are found effective by some in relieving the pain. However, they are not safe for people with certain other medical conditions. Out of all the pain controlling medications available, it is possible that only one or a combination of medicines may work for you, so you may have to try a few before you find some relief.
Preventive medication includes anti-inflammatory (steroid) medicines such as prednisone, which is usually started with a high dose that is reduced over the period of a few weeks. Other preventive medicines are ergot preparations and methysergide maleate, but these drugs come with a warning tag of severe side effects. Antihistamines, indomethacin, lthium carbonate, calcium channel blockers, propranolol, amitriptyline, verapamil, and cyproheptadine are other forms of treatment. In rare cases, surgery on certain nerve cells near the brain may be an option.
The best remedy is prevention, for anything. Dealing with cluster headaches during pregnancy can be especially challenging, given that taking medications during gestation is discouraged. The best approach to take is to avoid all those trigger factors, such as smoking, alcohol use, and specific foods, that may set off a headache. One way to manage the issue is by maintaining a diary. Every time you get a headache, write down the day and time the pain began. Add other details such as what you ate and drank in the last 24 hours, how much you slept and when, and what was going on in your life immediately before the pain started.
As the drugs used to relieve pain are very strong, a good option is regular sleep patterns, avoiding food with nitrates, and limiting exposure to fumes of any kind. If you still suffer an attack, these measures can help make the attacks shorter and less severe.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.