Headache Types

Headache Types

Cluster Headache

Medically reviewed by Dr. Emma Foster, 17 May 2021

Cluster headache is an extraordinarily painful but thankfully rare form of headache. It typically causes excruciating, boring (or ‘drilling’) pain localised around one eye, which can spread to the forehead, temple, cheek, and upper gum. Other associated symptoms include bloodshot, irritated eyes, swollen eyelids, stuffy nose (nasal congestion), sweating, agitation, and feeling restless. The term ‘cluster’ is used because the attacks occur in groups – typically they’ll happen for several weeks once or twice a year, often at the same time of the year.

These are episodic cluster headaches, although if the clusters have no period of remission, or the remission period is less than three months, it’s classified as a chronic cluster headache disorder. During a cluster period, people will experience 1-8 attacks per day, lasting between 15 minutes to 3 hours. For unknown reasons, this disorder is more common in men than women. Many studies show a link with cigarette smoking. Cluster headaches can not be ‘cured’, but the pain can be managed with preventative medications to prevent attacks and acute treatment to rapidly relieve pain.

Cluster headache belongs to a category of primary headache disorders called ‘trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias (TACs)‘.


Further information

Cluster Headache – rare and extremely painful – article by Dr. Lin Zhang, 2019

Webinar: Other Headache Types Including Cluster Headache, NDPH and MOH – from Migraine & Headache Awareness Week 2020

Other trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias (TACs):

Short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks

Paroxysmal hemicrania

Hemicrania continua

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