Cluster headaches are severe headaches that occur on one side and congregate in groups or "clusters." They come in cycles and usually occur over a period of weeks or months, usually between one to twelve weeks. They can be so painful as to alter your physical routine, inhibiting you from performing your daily activities. When the cluster headaches occur in cycles or cluster periods, they can last up to a month or even longer. After a cluster headache period ends, another one may not surface for months or even years.
Cluster headaches occur quickly and suddenly, usually without any warning. They also bring migraine-like symptoms including nausea, light and sound sensitivity and aura. Other symptoms include:
- excruciating, altering pain that is around the eye area; redness in the affected eye
- pain that is centralized on one side
- restlessness, unable to sleep
- excessive eye tearing
- stuffy, runny nose on the affected side of the face; swelling occurring
- drooping eyelid and a visible reduction in pupil size
Cluster headaches are often described as sharp, penetrating pains accompanied by burning sensations. Sufferers may also exhibit slight nervousness that will cause them to pace and/or rock back and forth for comfort as opposed to sitting still. They avoid lying down during periods of cluster headaches because this tends to heighten the pain.
During a cluster headache period, the headaches occur every day, sometimes several times a day. A single headache attack in the cluster period can last anywhere from 15 minutes up to three hours and can happen at the same time of day within a 24 hour period.
In cluster headaches, the pain usually ends just as suddenly as it begins and has rapidly decreasing intensity as it does. After the pain has subsided from the cluster headache, the sufferer is free from pain but is usually exhausted from the strain of the headache.
There are two types of cluster headaches that can occur. One type is called episodic. This is when you may experience two or three headaches a day for a period of three or four months. The pattern will repeat itself, often without warning.
The other type of cluster headache is called the chronic headache. The chronic headache is similar, but there are no periods of consistent relief. The headaches occur successively and are quite excruciating.
Cluster headaches occur far less often than tension headaches or migraine headaches. Since they occur so infrequently, their intensity is higher and stronger than with other headaches like the migraine or tension headache. Although they are very intense, they do not pose any long term health effects in the sufferer other than discomfort.
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