For two weeks you’ve had severe headache pain, and it’s not going away. You’ve tried taking Advil, using cold washcloths, and you’ve become sensitive to light. Cocking your head to one side you find no relief and you have such severe pain in your eyes you swear it feels like someone is repeatedly jamming an ice pick or hot poker into your sockets. If you try lying down, you notice the pain only intensifies and your neck and shoulders are always sore and throbbing.
According to iHATEheadaches.org, approximately 45 million Americans complain of headaches each year — or about 16.54 percent of the population. And more than eight million Americans visit their doctor complaining of headaches each year. It doesn’t take someone with a graduate Master’s degree to know that headaches are painful, debilitating and very frustrating.
Do you suffer from cluster headaches? Learn the signs and symptoms below, and find out what you can do about them:
Unlike run-of-the-mill headaches, cluster headaches occur in cyclical patterns or clusters and are some of the most painful types of headaches. They are often confused with migraines. Mayo Clinic says that frequent attacks, or cluster periods, may last from weeks to months, which are generally followed by remission periods when the headaches subside.
Signs you might have a cluster headache include:
- Quick-striking pain without warning
- An “alarm clock” pattern-the headaches will wake you up in the middle of the night with intense pain
- Intense pain in or around the eyes
- Intense pain on one side of your head
- Excruciating pain around your face, head, neck and shoulders
- Redness in the eye of the affected side
- Stuffy or runny nasal passage
- Reduced pupil size
- Swelling around the eye of the affected side
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Drooping eyelids
Characteristics of Cluster Headaches
You might notice that, like allergies, clusters occur every spring or fall. Often times, people with cluster headaches explain that their pain feels like a hot poker being stuck in the eye or that their eyes are being pushed out of its socket, as stated on the Mayo Clinic site. While you’re experiencing a period of clusters, you might notice that you get headaches several times a day, lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours, give or take. Mayo Clinic states that the majority of attacks occur at night, but the reason is unknown.
Unlike migraines, there is a genetic component to cluster headaches, so if this type of problem runs in your family, you run a greater risk of experiencing headaches. According to the World Health Organization, men are more prone to cluster headaches than women: For every six men effected there is one woman. The first onset is usually between 20 and 30 years old.
What You Can Do
Don’t worry, cluster headaches are not life threatening, and there are a variety of ways you can help make your attacks shorter and less severe. Normally, headaches, both normal and severe, aren’t a symptom of any underlying disease, but if you experience headaches frequently and it’s been occurring for a few years, seek medical attention.
Unlike migraines or tension headaches, there are no triggers that bring about your cluster headaches. Treatments include:
- Triptan, or Imitrex, injections
- Nasal triptan
The more radical and dangerous option is surgery. The most conventional type of surgery is when the doctor cuts or blocks a portion of the trigeminal nerve, the cause of the headaches.
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