Cluster headaches are excruciating headaches of extreme intensity. Cluster headaches affect one side of the head (unilateral) and may be associated with tearing of the eyes and nasal congestion. They occur in clusters, happening repeatedly every day at the same time for several weeks and then remitting. Cluster headaches are a fairly common form of chronic, recurrent headaches.
The pain of cluster headaches is remarkably greater than in other headache conditions, including severe migraines; experts have suggested that it may be the most painful condition known to medical science. The pain is lancinating or boring/drilling in quality, and is located behind the eye (periorbital) or in the temple, sometimes radiating to the neck or shoulder.
Unlike migraines, they affect men more often than women. They can affect people of any age but are most common between adolescence and middle age. There does not seem to be a pattern among families in the development of cluster headaches.
Cluster headaches occur as a severe, sudden headache. The onset is sudden and it occurs most commonly during the dreaming (REM) phase of sleep. Cluster headaches may occur daily for months, alternating with periods without headaches (episodic), or they can occur for a year of more without stopping.
Symptoms of Cluster Headaches
- Swelling under or around the eyes.
- Red eye (on the effected side)
- Flushed Face
- Excessive tears (on the affected side)
- Runny Nose or Nasal Congestion
Secondary effects of cluster headaches are the inability to organize thoughts and plans, exhaustion and depression. Patients tend to dread facing another headache, and may adjust their physical activities or ask for help to accomplish normal tasks, and may hesitate to schedule plans in reaction to the clock-like regularity of the pain schedule leading to social isolation.