The reason these headaches are referred to as cluster headaches is that they occur in cluster-like groups. For example, attacks may last for weeks or months and then go into remission where you have no headaches at all. And all of a sudden, a cluster-like pattern of severe headaches can develop again. The pain associated with cluster headaches is often felt around the eye. It may be felt above or behind the eye or along the temple. The pain is very intense and has been said to be like a drilling sensation.

When undergoing an attack, sufferers are unable to be still. They may pace back and forth, rock, or even hit their own head. Some people go as far as screaming or cursing, tying belts or scarves around their heads, or banging their heads on the wall in an attempt to get relief.

If these attacks occur in public places, those watching may not understand the level of pain being felt and may even resort to calling 911 to get the person some help. Because those with cluster headaches are in so much pain, it is difficult for them to communicate what is going on. A good idea is to wear an ID bracelet or carry a card on you that lets others know what is happening.

Symptoms of Cluster Headaches

In addition to what we mentioned above, there are other symptoms of cluster headaches to be aware of. These may include:

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  • Only one side of the head is affected
  • Redness in the affected eye
  • Changes in pupil size between the eyes (the affected eye will have a smaller pupil)
  • A severe headache that lasts between 15 minutes and 3 hours
  • Watering or tearing of the eye on the affected side
  • A runny or stuffed up nose
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Sweating on one side of the face
  • Cluster cycles that last from a single day to weeks at a time
  • Pain from the forehead into the jaw and along the gum line reaching even the teeth
  • Moving actually can alleviate some of the pain
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and certain smells
  • A headache which may occur up to 8 times during one day

Who Gets Cluster Headaches?

Cluster headaches are very rare. In fact, only 1 out of every 1000 people get them. Men get them 4 times more often than women. Most of those who get cluster headaches are adults; however, some children as young as 6 have had them. Information about these headaches is very limited because they are so rare. This is not good news for those that suffer.

Triggers for Cluster Headaches

Triggers do not cause cluster headaches. Rather, being exposed to a trigger can make you more likely to develop one. Here is a brief list of some common triggers:

  • Change of seasons
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Increased stress levels
  • Increased activity levels
  • Changes in environment
  • Histamines
  • Nitroglycerin
  • A family history of cluster headaches

Why Do Cluster Headaches Occur?

Cluster headaches remain a mystery among researchers. However, there are a number of theories as to why they occur. MRI results show the ophthalmic artery is dilating when you are having cluster headaches. Interestingly, the PET scan shows there is activity happening in the cavernous sinus.

It is important to note this also happens with other headache types. Other research indicates the hypothalamus is involved with cluster headaches. Additionally, if the trigeminal ganglion is activated, it can cause the symptoms of cluster headaches, but no one knows what triggers this to occur.

Caring for Cluster Headaches

Seeking care for cluster headaches can be tricky. Going to your family physician or a headache specialist may result in two different ways to care for your cluster headaches:

    1. Relief of a cluster headache while it is occurring:  Using pure, high-flow oxygen taken in through a non-rebreather mask has been seen to ease the pain. However, insurance companies are reluctant to pay for this, even though it is quite inexpensive. This is because doctors really do not understand how oxygen helps. Injections of sumatriptan can sometimes help, but only a few are allowed during a month’s time. This is not as helpful because cluster headaches happen much more often than that.
    2. Prevention of future headaches: Preventative medications may help, such as Verapamil. However, it must be monitored closely because it can cause a heart block. Topamax, Depakote, and lithium have been prescribed. Steroids may help but there is little evidence to back this up. It is good to closely examine the side effects of these drugs if you are considering them, as they can be dangerous. Surgery may be suggested for some people who are not helped by any of the above medications. This may involve deep brain stimulation or occipital nerve stimulation.

Because this information is so limited and seems to be overwhelming and confusing, many sufferers are searching for natural relief. Thankfully, this type of help is available and affordable.

Finding Natural Relief for Cluster Headaches

Here at Ricks McClure Chiropractic in Charlevoix, Michigan, we focus on making sure the top two bones of the neck, the C1 and C2 vertebrae, are in proper alignment. A misalignment here negatively affects the brainstem and can cause it to send improper signals to the brain. This can trigger cluster headaches to begin.

In order to correct this problem, we use a gentle method that does not require us to pop or crack the neck or spine. Rather, it encourages the bones of the neck to move back into alignment on their own, leading to a more natural adjustment. Once this is done, the damage inflicted by the misalignment can be healed, and many see an improvement in or an end to their cluster headaches.


To schedule a consultation with Dr. McClure, call our Charlevoix office at 231-547-4691. You can also click the button below.

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