Cluster Headaches

Cluster Headaches, also often referred to as cluster migraines, is a type of headache condition that gets its name from the pattern of attacks - they often occur in ‘clusters’ that can last for weeks, or even months. They are more common in men than women and, though they can develop at any age, they often start when a person is in their 30s/40s.

What are the symptoms?

Pain around the eye, temple, and sometimes face. They usually begin quickly and without warning and typically last anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours. Patients may suffer between 1 and 8 attacks in a day.

Other, less common, symptoms can include:

  • 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

Cause and treatment

Cluster headaches have been linked to activity in part of the brain called the hypothalamus, though the exact cause is not known. There may also be a link to genetics, as some people who develop Cluster Headaches have other family members who also get them.

There is evidence to suggest that cluster headaches are more common in people who smoke. Alcohol consumption and strong smells, such as perfume, petrol, or paint, may also be triggers.

Cluster Headaches can be extremely painful and can often have a significant impact on quality of life. Unlike with other headache conditions, over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are usually not considered as they are too slow to take effect.

Instead, one or more specialist treatments are often recommended. These include:

  • Sumatriptan injections – which you can give yourself up to twice a day
  • Sumatriptan or zolmitriptan nasal spray – which can be used if you do not want to have injections
  • Oxygen therapy – where you breathe pure oxygen through a face mask

These options may help to relieve pain in Cluster Headaches within 15-30 minutes, however, they are not always effective.

Medical Cannabis and Cluster Headaches

There is growing evidence to support the potential of cannabis-based medicines for the treatment of a number of pain-related conditions. Furthermore, a recent study carried out in the Netherlands demonstrated that cannabinoids can be effective at alleviating acute cluster headaches in patients who also experienced Migraines in childhood.

Our specialist physicians are experienced in assessing individual cases and helping to determine whether medical cannabis could be an effective option.