Dealing With Cluster Migraine Symptoms

Having a prevention strategy when dealing with cluster migraine symptoms is important. With 10 out of 10 pain you need a plan! Your strategy may include some these things I have listed below.

Cluster Migraine Symptoms

Cluster headache attacks are shorter than migraine attacks. They typically last between 15 minutes to 3 hours and occur at predictable times.

They occur in clusters, thus the name. Clusters meaning a cyclic pattern. 

During the 'cluster period' you could have attacks daily. Typical periods of daily attacks are 6-8 weeks in duration, but for some sufferers the attack cycles are much longer. They can often "occur 1-2 times per year at predictable times of the year, or they can skip years." (AHS)

The average number of attacks is twice a day. The most common time is in the very early morning between midnight and 3am, and then once again later in the day or early evening. Or there can be a one every other day, or rarely, they can recur up to eight times a day.

Agony... sheer agony!

Cluster Headache is a very severe primary headache disorder with a population one-year prevalence of about 0.1 %. Classified as a Trigeminal Autonomic Cephalagia (TAC) (1), it is probably the second most common form of primary headache encountered by neurologists or headache specialists. Cluster headache (CH) comes in two dominant forms, episodic CH, in which there are breaks of a month or more without therapy (80% of patients), and chronic CH in which such breaks are not seen (20% of patients) (2). ~ Dr. Peter Goadsby (source)

Cluster headaches are known to be one of the most painful types of all the categories of headaches. 10 out of 10 on the pain scale!

It is really important to avoid all your known triggers as one way to potentially reduce your symptoms. It may take some time to learn them all. Triggers can be tricky.

The good news is that these cluster headaches are not life-threatening and there is current treatment (in most cases) to make the attacks shorter and less severe. Effective medication is available for cluster migraine symptoms.

Dr. Goadsby states that "Oxygen: Inhaled oxygen, 100% at 10-12 L/min for 15 minutes is an effective, safe treatment of acute cluster headache (RCT)." (source)

And the gammaCore external vagal nerve stimulator for cluster headaches is FDA approved. (3)

The gammaCore (electroCore LLC) is the first hand-held device proven to help with cluster migraine symptoms. This device won’t have the side effects or dose limitations like medications, it's considered low risk.

Click here to read more about how to use it.

The bad news is that these headaches usually wake you in the middle of the night with really severe pain in, above, below or around one eye, along your temple or on one side of your head.

This may not give your medication enough time to start working, depending on what you are taking. Swelling on one side of the face, like your worse sinus attack, can be common.

Typically cluster migraines last from weeks to even months, but can then be followed by a period of remission. These remissions can last for months and, at times, even years.

Cluster Migraine Symptoms

Cluster Migraine Symptoms

Cluster headache is a severe type of one-sided headache characterized by:

  • eye tearing or redness (90% of sufferers)
  • running of one nostril (84%)
  • sweating or flushing (59%)
  • swelling of the eyelid

These cluster migraine symptoms all occur on the same side of the head as the intense, stabbing pain, usually behind one eye or at the temple near the forehead.

Other things you might have to endure are:

  • inability to lie down or lie still
  • pace, or rock in one place
  • bang your head against something to distract yourself from the pain and agony

Choose The Right Medication

When the first symptoms occur, instead of filling yourself with dread like I used to, use them as your early warning signal to take action.

Dealing with cluster migraine symptoms leading up to the pain phase is most distressing and it happens FAST. You know the pain phase is coming and you can often count the minutes it will last. Many times there is no warning before the pain phase hits.

This is the time to take the medication your doctor prescribed, (e.g. Sumatriptan nasal spray or injectable is a fast acting delivery system). The triptan family of drugs is really effective if you can take them. Here is a complete list of migraine meds.

Read this PDF from Dr. Peter Goadsby on the Treatment of Cluster Headache (AHS), print it out and take it with you to your next physician's appointment to help find the best medication possible.

Cluster headaches are a long, difficult journey. It may be hard to determine your trigger or triggers, and they are severely painful. If you are reading this page, then I suspect you already know this.

Please consider developing a migraine prevention pain management strategy with your doctor, so you can have the best life possible despite this condition.

Here are some other things to try.

Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule

One of the measures that can be helpful for you to avoid these headaches during the cluster cycle is to keep a regular sleep schedule.

Changing your sleeping routine can be a trigger that sets a cluster migraine into action. Following your usual sleep routine is the best thing to do.

Know Your Trigger(s)

Keep a log of events that you think might be a trigger for your cluster migraine symptoms. Once you have figured out what typically triggers them, avoid them at all costs if possible.

These might help: migraine diary, migraine journal, and a migraine calendar.pdf so you can print it out.

Avoid Alcohol

Part of the prevention strategy may include the avoidance of alcohol and nicotine, which often appear to be triggers for cluster headaches.

The consumption of alcohol, including wine and beer, can trigger a headache if you are in a cluster period.

People have tried other sources of pain relief such as acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, and even homeopathy, but over the years is it thought that less than 10 percent of these therapies have been effective to relieve cluster headache episodes.

Try Taking Melatonin

Some of the natural medicines may be worth a try.

Melatonin has shown to have a modest effect in the treating of cluster headaches.

And an extract from kudzu was shown to help the intensity, duration, and frequency of the headaches, but did not decrease the length of the headache.

The Impact Goes Far Beyond The Pain

If you are a person who lives with having cluster migraine headaches, it certainly can be challenging, to say the least.

These headaches can be very frightening to your family and friends and most of all to you.

There will be times when these migraines are unbearable.

Your life can be affected because of the decreased interaction with your friends and family. They may affect your ability to work full time.

People without migraines will not understand how painful the attacks are and how much they can actually effect the overall quality of your life.

I always say, the impact of migraines goes far beyond the pain phase. In my experience, migraines effect every area of our lives.

Consider Counseling

Coping with Cluster Migraine Symptoms

You may find encouragement and understanding in a headache support group or you may feel the need to talk with a professional pain counselor or therapist.

Either of these can help you to cope with the cluster migraine symptoms. There is a VERY good chance that the others in the group will be experiencing the same things as you are.

The cause of cluster headaches is unknown, so it's hard to prevent the occurrence. It's very important to have a preventive strategy because only treating the symptoms with medications can, at times, seem hopeless.

Most Importantly Stay in Touch With Your Doctor

Your doctor is your first port of call for getting the right diagnosis and then the right treatment.

There are new things being discovered all the time in the medical world.

I think it's important to find a good doctor and stay in touch with them over the years.

This is a life-time condition, it's not a one off thing, and they may change over time. The symptoms can change, the severity, the frequency, etc. It's possible that your condition may be from another more serious problem, so it’s important to rule out the serious stuff first.

Although typically, cluster migraine headaches do not cause damage, it is always best to see a doctor to double check.

Your doctor can prescribe appropriate medication to help relieve the pain during or following the attack.

How Do You Deal With Your Cluster Migraine Symptoms?

Cluster headaches are nasty. What do you do to reduce the symptoms and pain?

Have you tried the gammaCore external vagal nerve stimulator for cluster headaches? It' s FDA approved.

Pop around and tell me in Facebook or share your story.  

Cluster Migraine Symptoms References:
1. American Headache Society (2016) Headache Toolbox Cluster Headache Available [Online] at:
3. MedScape (2017) FDA Approves gammaCore Vagus Nerve Stimulation Device for Cluster Headache. Available [Online] at:

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