Have you ever had a “cluster headache?” If you have, then you know how excruciating it can be — and how there are times when nothing seems to be able to provide relief. However, a recent study has shown that a migraine treatment could be effective in taking away the pain caused by cluster headaches.
A cluster headache is not a common form of head pain; when it does occur, it hits men more often than it does women. The pain, which can be debilitating, can come on without warning, usually occurring around one of your eyes. Other symptoms can include restlessness and the eye/nose area becoming swollen and runny.
Although it can vary, the average duration of a cluster headache is 45 to 90 minutes. The characteristic that makes them stand out the most from other types of head pain is the pattern that they tend to follow. These headaches seem to come on in cycles — once every few months — with a cycle lasting one to two months. They also strike at specific times of day for most people: between 1:00 a.m. and 2 a.m. or around 9 p.m., for example.
What causes cluster headaches? This seems to still be up for debate, but smoking, certain medications, sleeping disturbances, and problems with the hypothalamus (which controls your body’s internal clock) have all been fingered as potential culprits. One of the aforementioned study’s authors pointed out that cluster headaches seem to be linked to light/dark cycles and spring and fall equinoxes.
Now let’s move on to the newest potential treatment for cluster headache sufferers. In a placebo-controlled, double- blind study, researchers looked at the effects of zolmitriptan on cluster headaches. This drug, whose brand name is “Zomig,” is a nasal-spray medication sold by AstraZeneca to treat migraine headaches. The study involved 92 patients (80 of whom were male), aged 18 to 65 years old.
Each patient had three cluster attacks treated, each one with a different substance: 1) five mg of zolmitriptan, 2) 10 mg of zolmitriptan, and 3) placebo. The subjects were assessed at five, 10, 15, and 30 minutes after the treatment to see if there had been any changes in their headache pain.
After 30 minutes, 23% of placebo patients, 42% of patients treated with the five mg nasal spray, and 61% of patients treated with the 10 mg solution experienced some relief from their cluster headaches. Moreover, when it came to being pain-free at 30 minutes after treatment, the numbers were as follows: 16% of placebo patients, 28% of 5 mg zolmitriptan patients, and 50% of 10 mg zolmitriptan patients. Relief in some people was even reported 15 minutes after taking the nasal spray. There did not seem to be any significant side effects.
The main therapies currently used for cluster headaches are inhaled oxygen and an injected drug. For some sufferers, these might not be effective; for others, they’re not easy to take or are not available at the moment of an attack. The discovery that this nasal spray drug could provide fast- acting relief comes as extremely welcome news to people dealing with the blinding pain of cluster headaches. Check with your doctor to see if it will become available soon.