Although they are fairly rare cluster headaches are regarded as being as one of the most painful conditions which you can experience. Fortunately they are reasonably rare and, while other frequently painful headaches like migraines affect about 10 percent of the population, less than one third of one percent suffer from cluster headaches. Most people describe cluster headaches as being far worse than migraines and many women say that they are more painful than having a baby.
Cluster headaches, which normally appear as a sharp stabbing pain behind one eye or near the area of the temple, are distinguished by the fact that they frequently occur at regular times. In other words they have a tendency to occur at a specific time of day, last for an hour or less, and then strike again at the same time the next day with this pattern repeating for a number of weeks, months or even longer. Cluster headaches also tend to strike without any warning and differ from migraines which are frequently preceded by symptoms like flashing lights.
Precisely why we get cluster headaches remains a mystery although some scientists think that they result from an abnormality in the hypothalamus, which is a small gland which regulates the body clock and is affected by changes in the length of the day amongst other things.
Another notable difference between migraines and cluster headaches is the gender of sufferers. With migraine headaches about three quarters of the some twenty-eight million sufferers in the US alone are women and just one quarter are men. In the case of cluster headaches however approximately 8 out of 10 sufferers are men.
Standard treatments for normal or migraine headaches are normally ineffective for cluster headaches and such once miracle drugs as aspirin and ibuprofen have little if any impact.
One treatment which has been shown to be quite effective is inhaling pure oxygen. Of course this type of treatment cannot be used until after the onset of the headache but inhaling pure oxygen for a severa minutes will frequently ease the headache considerably.
Another relatively good treatment is the use of a class of drugs called triptans which are regularly used for the treatment of migraines. Here however the drug has got to be administered in the form of a nasal spray to be effective and this can be far from easy as cluster headaches will sometimes produce swelling in the nasal passages. When this is the case then the drug can also be effective if it is given in the form of an injection. Once again this is a form of treatment which needs to be used once the headache has appeared.
Since cluster headaches attack with a clear pattern it would be especially useful to have some form of preventative medicine which could be taken regularly shortly before a headache appears. Unhappily however because the condition is so rare and is not well understood we do not have much data about which drugs may or may not be an effective form of preventative treatment.
In extreme cases of cluster headaches surgery to block nerves and other neurological procedures can be carried out although this should be seen as very much a last resort and is not always wholly effective.