Symptoms of cluster headaches

Symptoms of a Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches begin suddenly and without warning. The pain is very severe and is often described as a sharp, burning or piercing sensation on one side of the head. The pain is typically felt around the eye, temple and sometimes face, and typically recurs on the same side for each attack.

Often people feel restless and agitated during an attack because the pain is so intense, and may react by rocking, pacing or banging their head against the wall.

They commonly also have at least one of the following associated symptoms:

  • A red and watering eye
  • Drooping and swelling of one eyelid
  • A smaller pupil in one eye
  • A sweaty face
  • A blocked or runny nostril
  • A red ear

These attacks generally last between 15 minutes and three hours, and typically occur between one and eight times a day.

Pattern of Attacks

Cluster headaches usually occur every day, in bouts lasting several weeks or months at a time, before they subside. Remission will often follow, which sometimes lasts months or years before the headaches start again.

During a cluster headache bout, the headaches often occur at the same time each day. For example, people often wake up with a headache within a couple of hours of going to sleep. The attacks also seem to recur at similar times of the year, most often in spring and autumn.

Some people notice certain triggers for their headaches during a period of attacks, such as:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Warm temperatures
  • Exercise
  • Strong smells, such as perfume, paint or petrol

Cluster headache bouts separated by a remission period of one month or more are known as episodic cluster headaches. Those separated by a remission period of less than one month, or present for at least 12 months without remission, are known as chronic cluster headaches.

About 10-20% of cluster headache cases are chronic.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 28 Nov 2016