Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are recognized by their pattern of deep, intense head pain. They normally occur on one side of the head. Typically, cluster headaches:

  • Are severe in nature.

  • Occur repeatedly over weeks to months at a time and are then followed by periods of no headaches.

  • Can last 15 minutes to 3 hours.

  • Occur at the same time each day, often at night.

  • Occur several times a day.


The exact cause of a cluster headache is not known. Some things can trigger a cluster headache, such as:

  • Smoking.

  • Alcohol use.

  • Lack of sleep.

  • High altitude travel, such as airline travel.

  • Change of seasons.

  • Certain foods, such as foods or drinks that contain nitrates, glutamate, aspartame, or tyramine.


  • Severe pain that begins in or around the eye or temple.

  • One-sided head pain.

  • Feeling sick to your stomach (nauseous).

  • Sensitivity to light.

  • Runny nose.

  • Eye redness, tearing, and nasal stuffiness on the side of your head where you are experiencing pain.

  • Sweaty, pale skin of the face.

  • Droopy eyelid.


Cluster headaches are diagnosed based on symptoms and physical exam. Your caregiver may order a computerized X-ray scan (CT or CAT scan) or a computerized magnetic scan (MRI) of your head or other lab tests to see if your headaches are caused from other medical conditions.


  • Medications for pain relief and to prevent recurrent attacks.

  • Oxygen for pain relief.

  • Biofeedback programs may help reduce headache pain.

Some people may need a combination of medicines for cluster headaches. It may be helpful to keep a headache diary. This may help you find a trend for what is triggering your headaches. Your caregiver can develop a treatment plan that can be helpful to you.


During cluster periods:

  • Follow a regular sleep schedule. Do not vary the amount and time that you sleep from day to day. It is important to stay on the same schedule during a cluster period to help prevent headaches.

  • Avoid alcohol.

  • Stop smoking.


  • You have any changes from your previous cluster headaches either in intensity or frequency.

  • You are not getting relief from medicines you are taking.

  • You faint.

  • You develop weakness or numbness, especially on one side of your body or face.

  • You develop double vision.

  • You develop nausea or vomiting.

  • You cannot keep your balance or have difficulty talking or walking.

  • You develop neck pain or neck stiffness.

  • You have a fever.