The term “cluster headache” describes a condition where several painful headaches occur in a pattern over the course of 24 hours. These headaches often begin at night, waking you with pain that’s felt behind your eye or on one side of your head. Cluster headaches tend to differ vastly from other types of headaches.
Men between the ages of 20 to 50 are the most likely to experience cluster headaches, but anyone can get them. Cluster headaches are not dangerous. They can be treated with over-the-counter medications or with home remedies. Keep reading to find out more about cluster headaches and how to treat them at home.
Cluster headaches can be treated in different ways, depending on the cause and how often you get them. Sometimes, they can be treated with the same methods and approach as a “regular” headache.
Keep in mind that herbs and supplements are not monitored by the FDA. Do your research and choose products that are known to be safely manufactured with high standards for quality and purity.
You may also consider eating foods that are magnesium-dense, such as seeds, almonds, figs, and avocado. If you’re already having a cluster headache attack, an IV of magnesium sulfate may be given to you at an emergency room or urgent-care center.
Also known as riboflavin, vitamin B-2 has been found to prevent some symptoms of headache and migraine. You can take riboflavin in supplements of 400 milligrams per day, as participants in one study did. You can also aim to get vitamin B-2 from food sources like almonds, spinach, mushrooms, and yogurt.
Kudzu extract is a botanical supplement that comes from the kudzu vine. Anecdotal evidence suggests that kudzu can effectively treat headaches. More clinical trials are needed to determine the appropriate dosage of kudzu to treat cluster headaches. There’s not enough known about the safety of Kudzu during pregnancy and breastfeeding and should be avoided. It can also interfere with medications used to treat blood clotting.
Melatonin is a hormone that your body uses to regulate your sleeping patterns. People who get cluster headaches often have low melatonin levels. Taking melatonin supplements daily about two hours before you go to sleep may have a positive effect on preventing and treating cluster headache.
Note that recommended melatonin dosage varies greatly depending on your weight, sex, and other factors, so always read product labels and start with a small dosage before gradually increasing.
Topical capsaicin cream can be purchased over the counter and used to manage cluster headaches. This analgesic can be applied to the site of your headache. Be careful to keep this kind of medicated cream away from your eyes.
Deep breathing exercises
Getting extra oxygen into your bloodstream can calm your body and help you manage pain. Deep breathing exercises can be performed at home when you have a cluster headache. Box breathing and pursed lip breathing are also powerful stress relieving techniques.
The essential oils of certain plants have been shown to reduce headache symptoms and may help you get through cluster headaches. Apply eucalyptus or peppermint oil mixed with a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil or coconut oil, to your forehead and temples using a cotton swab or sponge. Peppermint oil in particular may relieve pain at the site of your headache and improve your symptoms.
Ginger has been found to be as effective as the drug sumatriptan in the treatment of migraine symptoms. An advantage of ginger tea is that it has very few side effects and is safe for most people. You can purchase ginger root tea and drink it when you have cluster headache pain.
Common cluster headache symptoms include:
- headache pain that sets in behind your eye or on one side of your face
- headache that begins without any warning
- headaches that start at the same time each day
- several headaches that last between 15 minutes to 3 hours, within 24 hours
- headache that wakes you up early in the morning
- eye redness and irritation on the side of your face where your headache pain originates
- numbness or tingling on one side of your face, or in your arms or fingers
- migraine-like aura and nausea
- headaches that occur around the same time every year
Researchers are still working to understand what causes cluster headaches. Most likely, cluster headaches are connected to activity in your hypothalamus. Located at the base of your brain, the hypothalamus contains reflex pathways that control pain in your face and behind your eyes. When this nerve pathway is activated, it triggers sensations of tingling, throbbing, numbness, and intense pain. Eye tearing and redness can also be stimulated by this same group of nerves.
If you’re predisposed to having them, cluster headaches can be triggered by:
Certain activities can help prevent the appearance of cluster headaches. While there is no cure for cluster headaches, incorporating these lifestyle changes may help you stretch the time between headaches or even help symptoms disappear completely over time.
Daily cardiovascular exercise may improve circulation to your brain, reduce stress, and help you sleep better. Research suggests that adding a consistent workout routine to your schedule might reduce your risk for recurrent cluster headaches.
Consistent yoga practice may alleviate and prevent regular headaches. Yoga five times per week for 60 minutes each day is the ideal target for preventing headaches. But you can start by simply practicing yoga postures and breathing on your own for 20 minutes each day, 2 or 3 times per week.
Consistent sleep schedule
A consistent sleep schedule may improve your circadian rhythm, triggering fewer cluster headaches, research shows.
Cluster headaches occur much more often in smokers than in nonsmokers. While quitting smoking might not mean you never have a cluster headache again, there’s strong reason to believe that cutting out nicotine and other stimulants might help improve your body’s sleep patterns and nerve responses.
Quitting smoking is difficult, but possible. Speak to a doctor about finding a personalized quit-smoking program.
If you have cluster headaches, the pain alone is reason to seek medical help. If home remedies are not relieving the pain, your doctor will design a treatment plan to give you pain relief. Talk to your doctor about your options for self-treatment, to be sure none of your approaches have side effects or interfere with medications or other treatments.
Medical treatments commonly prescribed for cluster headache include:
- oxygen delivered by mask
- injectable sumatriptan (Imitrex, Alsuma, Samavel DosePro)
- intranasal lidocaine
- intravenous magnesium sulfate
Cluster headaches are extremely uncomfortable, and they do tend to reoccur. Cluster headaches don’t last forever, and within a few days, all symptoms should disappear.
The good news is that taking steps to prevent and address your cluster headaches are relatively simple. By identifying triggers and taking steps to lower your risk of cluster headaches, you may be able to stretch the time between recurrences to months or even years.