How to Get Rid of Cluster Headache Pain: Symptoms, Trigger Points, and Prevention

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Cluster Headache Pain

What is a cluster headache? Sometimes called red migraines, histamine headaches, or Horton’s syndrome, cluster headaches are extremely painful, one-sided headaches that occur in groups of several headaches for short bursts of time.

This cluster headache pain will often occur around one eye at one side of your head and may wake you up in the middle of the night. This article will guide you through how to get rid of cluster headaches.

A cluster headache can last anywhere from weeks to months. At some point, you will experience remission, wherein no headache may occur for weeks, months, and sometimes years at a time.

Although they are rare and not life-threatening, cluster headache treatment will make attacks shorter and less severe. Read on to learn more about the cluster headaches trigger list, cluster headache natural treatment, and how to prevent this disastrous and pounding head pain.

Who Is Affected by Cluster Headaches?

Who is more likely to experience a cluster headache? Cluster headaches are uncommon, affecting fewer than one in 1,000 people, and surveys suggest there is a diagnostic delay of around seven years.

Unlike migraines, cluster headaches predominantly affect men with a 9:1 ratio of males to females. Cluster headaches can affect any age group; however, these headaches will most often begin between the ages of 20 and 50.

A person is not likely to grow out of a cluster, but it is common to have longer pain-free periods as you get older. Smokers also tend to experience a cluster headache more often than non-smokers.

Having members of your family with a history of cluster headaches will also increase your chances of this type of headache.

Cluster Headache Symptoms

Cluster headaches are different for everyone, and 80% to 90% of sufferers will experience a cluster for several weeks, before a remission period for a year where no symptoms are present.

The one-sided cluster headache pain will last anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours, and can occur up to eight times each day. It is also common for a cluster headache to hit at the same time daily, and often at night and a few hours after bedtime.

One to three daytime attacks can also occur, but they are often less severe than nighttime attacks. Cluster attacks will last between 15 and 180 minutes, before ending as rapidly as they began. The pain ends suddenly, but it leaves people weak and drained.

Lying down with a cluster headache often worsens the problem. People will awaken during night attacks; as a result, it is common for people to be either sitting, restless, or pacing back and forth during an outburst.

Others will experience changes in heart rate and blood pressure, agitation, and sensitivity to smell, sound, or light.

The following are the most common symptoms of cluster headaches:

  • Excruciating pain, often in or around one eye; however, pain may also radiate to other areas of the forehead, neck, nose, cheek, temple, upper gum of affected side, and shoulders
  • Constant pain of an attack can be described as throbbing, piercing, or burning
  • Eyelid drooping
  • Swelling and redness at the eye of affected side
  • Excessive watery, tearing eyes
  • Facial or forehead sweating
  • Runny or stuffy nose on the affected side

What Triggers Cluster Headaches?

What causes cluster headaches? This section will feature a cluster headaches trigger list to help you become aware of the causes.

First of all, cluster headaches are triggered by the activation of the trigeminal-autonomic reflex pathway—also known as the nerve pathway at the base of the brain.

This nerve is responsible for sensations in the face, and during activation it will cause eye pain—a major sign of a cluster headache.

The activated trigeminal nerve also stimulates other nerve groups that causes cluster headache symptoms like nasal congestion, eye redness and tearing, and discharge.

Although clusters headaches are not caused by a brain condition like an aneurysm, they are triggered from a section of the brain that governs physiological functions called the hypothalamus. This is the part of the brain responsible for hunger, sleep, thirst, mood, regulation, temperature, and the release of hormones within the body.

A study published in the journal PLOS One in 2013 found that the right hypothalamus in cluster headache patients would malfunction during an attack compared to when no cluster headaches are in occurrence.

Some research also suggests that cluster headaches have a genetic component in certain families. A large portion of cluster headache patients also have sleep apnea, and when the hypothalamus is stimulated, stress can also help trigger a cluster headache.

It is important to know the cluster headaches trigger list. Some of these cluster headache triggers include bright light, exercise or exertion, heat from bathing or the weather, and foods that contain nitrates.

Some also find that strong-smelling substances like paint fumes, bleach, solvents, or perfume can trigger a cluster headache. Let’s take a deeper look at what causes cluster headaches.

Seasonal Changes

Cluster headaches are often mistaken for allergies or sinusitis, since they tend to happen during the spring and autumn.

The association between seasonal allergies and cluster headaches is likely the result of the activation or stimulation of the hypothalamus. This is why cluster headaches often occur during certain times of the year.

Alcohol and Tobacco

In a cluster period, the cluster headache sufferer is more sensitive to the effects of tobacco and alcohol, and both can trigger these headaches.

That being said, during headache-free periods, the patient can consume alcohol without triggering a headache.


Certain medications do not interact well with the hypothalamus. In particular, the heart disease drug nitroglycerin is known to trigger cluster headaches.

Cocaine use and hormonal medications can also stimulate the hypothalamus, especially during times of heightened sensitivity.

How to Get Rid of Cluster Headaches

There is no cure for a cluster headache; however, treatment has become more effective within the last 10 years to help prevent future attacks and relieve symptoms. This section will show you how to get rid of cluster headaches with conventional treatment.

1. Oxygen Therapy

Inhalation of oxygen is one of the safest ways to treat cluster headaches, and it doesn’t have side effects.

You need to breathe oxygen at a rate between seven and 12 liters per minute. The treatment often begins to work within 15 to 20 minutes.

In some people, the oxygen will delay a cluster headache rather than stopping it.

2. Deep Brain Stimulation of the Hypothalamus

Research shows that the posterior hypothalamus is activated during cluster headaches. As a result, the stimulation of the ipsilateral posterior hypothalamus will counteract hyperactivity and prevent cluster headache attacks.

A study published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders in 2010 found that hypothalamic stimulation can prevent attacks in over 60% of 58 hypothalamic implanted, drug-resistant chronic cluster headache patients.

3. Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are commonly called steroids and anti-inflammatory medicines. They are often prescribed for a variety of conditions, and have been used for as a cluster headache treatment for 50 years.

Research shows that corticosteroids are effective in the treatment for cluster headaches because they influence inflammation, histaminergic, opioid, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal systems.

However, side effects of corticosteroids include an increased risk of infection, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, and mood changes.

4. Verapamil

Verapamil is a calcium channel-blocking agent, and is often the first choice for cluster headache prevention.

A study published in the journal CNS Drugs in 2012 found that 360 mg of verapamil daily was more effective than a placebo in the treatment of cluster headaches.

In clinical practice, 480mg to 720mg are the common daily doses used to treat to cluster headaches. But like most drugs, verapamil comes with various side effects like fatigue, nausea, constipation, low blood pressure, and ankle swelling.

5. Sumatriptan

Sumatriptan is in a class of medications known as selective serotonin receptor agonists. These narrow blood vessels in the head, which stops pain signals from being sent to the brain and blocks the release of substances that cause headaches.

Although sumatriptan relieves headache symptoms, it may also cause side effects like weakness, dizziness, diarrhea, nausea, upset stomach, and muscle cramps.

To be effective for cluster headaches, sumatriptan would have to be taken with each attack, and this can be up to eight times daily.

6. Occipital Nerve Blockages

An occipital nerve block is a steroid infection around the occipital nerves located at the back of the head. Occipital nerves produce pain in a large part of the back and top of the head.

These injected steroids reduce swelling and inflammation of tissue around occipital nerves, and this decreases headache pain. However, side effects of occipital nerve blockages include bleeding, pain at injection sight, infection, and worsening of symptoms.

7. Lithium Carbonate

Lithium carbonate is a bipolar disorder medication that may prevent chronic cluster headaches when other drugs haven’t helped. Side effects often include diarrhea, increased thirst, and tremors.

When taking lithium carbonate, it is important to check your blood for signs of more serious adverse effects like kidney damage.

8. Other Drug Treatments

Other common medications prescribed for cluster headaches include divalproex sodium, prednisone, ergotamine, topiramate, and methysergide.

How to Treat Cluster Headaches Naturally

Do you want to know how to get rid of cluster headaches naturally? There are also plenty of cluster headache relief home remedies. This section will feature natural cluster headache treatment that can help today:

1. Magnesium

Magnesium for cluster headaches is a good place to start for natural relief. Cluster headache sufferers often have low magnesium; therefore, magnesium supplementation and injections are beneficial.

Research even shows that intravenous magnesium injections may relieve cluster headache attacks.

For cluster headache relief, it is recommended to take 400 mg of magnesium three times daily. It is a good idea to take one capsule before bed since cluster headaches are common at night.

Magnesium-rich foods are also beneficial, and include spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, cucumbers, avocado, and pumpkin seeds.

2. Melatonin

Melatonin is a natural hormone that is often used as an adjunctive therapy in cluster headache patients that have not found success with conventional treatment.

Low melatonin is common in cluster headache patients, and some research shows that melatonin can rapidly alleviate cluster headache attacks in those with episodic cluster headaches.

It is suggested that melatonin be used before a cluster period for best results.

3. Capsaicin Cream

Capsaicin works by blocking nerve pain signals. A study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain in the late 1980s stated that capsaicin cream would reduce the number of headache attacks 60 days after treatment.

It is a good idea to apply of some capsaicin cream inside the nostril, but beware that it can temporarily cause nasal secretion, sneezing, and a slight painful sensation.

4. Peppermint Essential Oil

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is known to alleviate headaches, release tight muscles, boost energy, and improve mental focus.

Apply two to three drops of peppermint oil to the bottoms of the feet, temples, and back of the neck before and after a cluster headache attack for best results.

5. Ginger

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) contains the bioactive compound gingerol, which has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. As a result, ginger can decrease pain by acting on vanilloid receptors which play an important role in the transmission of inflammatory pain.

It also can relieve nausea, another intense symptom of cluster headaches. For best results against cluster headache symptoms, drink ginger tea once or twice daily.

6. Psilocybin Mushrooms

Many cluster headache sufferers are turning to psilocybin mushrooms (Psilocybe cubensis) when nothing else works.

Also known as psychedelic mushrooms, psilocybin is hallucinogen, and studies suggest it may also help treat cluster headaches.

A review published in the journal Neurology in 2006 analyzed the effect of psilocybin mushrooms on headache patients. Out of 26 patients, 22 reported that the mushrooms had relieved cluster headache attacks.

Additionally, 25 of 48 reported cluster headache termination, and 18 of 19 users reported that remission had been extended after treatment of the psilocybin mushrooms.

7. Kudzu Extract

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) extract is a semi-woody, leguminous vine native to Southeast Asia. There was a study published in the journal Headache in 2009 that questioned cluster headache patients about their alternative remedy use.

Of the 235 patients identified, 16 used kudzu, and 11 experienced reduced intensity of cluster headache attacks, nine had reduced frequency, and five had decreased duration.

8. Vitamin B2

Vitamin B2 may reduce the frequency and severity of cluster headaches. At the same time, vitamin B2 deficiency can lead to inflammation and nerve damage, which may both increase cluster headache intensity.

A study published in the European Journal of Neurology in 2004 found that patients receiving 400 mg of vitamin B2 daily would experience fewer headache attacks than before supplementation.

9. Other Natural Treatment

Other natural treatment options for cluster headaches include calcium, butterbur, feverfew, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), Ginkgo biloba, menthol cream, white willow bark, chamomile, passionflower, digestive enzymes, essential fatty acids, and vitamin B6.

Additional alternative therapies for cluster headaches include chiropractic care, acupuncture, acupressure, and physiotherapy. It is also a good idea to get a cluster headache relief massage.

How Are Cluster Headaches Prevented?

How would you prevent cluster headache pain? The following techniques may be useful.

Breathing Exercises

Deep and rhythmic breathing will allow greater amounts of oxygen to reach the brain, which relieves pain during headaches. The breathing and physical exercises in yoga have been found to alleviate headache symptoms.

Daily Exercise

Exercising daily can decrease stress and boost circulation, and as a result, any form of exercise like interval training or hiking can help relieve headache symptoms.

Fresh Air

Since oxygen has been found to relieve cluster headache symptoms, what better way to get oxygen than taking deep breathes of fresh air in the great outdoors.

Go for a hike in a forested area the next time a cluster headache arises.

Drink Water

What about a cluster headaches water treatment? Staying hydrated and drinking lots of water can help control cluster headache symptoms.

Basically, all you need to do is consume water during and between cluster attacks. Try 6 oz. of filtered water every half hour for about four hours.

Regular Sleep

Do you get enough sleep? It is important for cluster headache sufferers to stick to a regular sleep schedule. These cluster periods may actually begin when you change your normal sleep routine.

Having trouble with insomnia can also trigger cluster headaches, which is why doing everything you can to get quality sleep is very important.

Avoid Alcohol and Tobacco

Smoking and drinking alcohol can both increase cluster headache frequency, and will even worsen pain. It’s important to avoid tobacco and alcohol, especially during a cluster period.

You Can Get Rid of Cluster Headache Pain

In summary, what are cluster headaches? They are extremely painful one-sided headaches that occur in clusters during short bursts of time. Although cluster headaches are rare, 80% to 90% of sufferers will experience a cluster for several weeks at a time.

The cluster headaches triggers list will include seasonal changes, alcohol and tobacco, bright light, heat from bathing or the weather, exercise or exertion, foods that contain nitrates, and certain medications.

This article did well to explain how to get rid of cluster headaches. The conventional treatment will include oxygen therapy, deep brain stimulation of the hypothalamus, corticosteroids, verapamil, sumatriptan, occipital nerve blocks, and lithium carbonate.

Natural cluster headache treatment will include magnesium, vitamin B2, ginger, peppermint oil, kudzu extract, psilocybin mushrooms, capsaicin cream, and melatonin. Daily exercise, breathing exercises, and fresh air also do wonders for cluster headache relief.

Please consult your doctor or health care provider for the most appropriate cluster headache treatment for you.

Also Read:

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