Chiropractic Care for Cluster Headaches
Said to be one of the most painful kinds of headaches, a cluster headache manifests as a severe sharp, penetrating (sometimes burning) pain around or behind one eye that strikes fast and hard, developing rapidly over of a matter of minutes, typically with no warning. Sometimes the pain will spread from the affected eye, radiating out to other parts of the face and head as well as the neck and shoulders. People suffering from cluster headaches can experience one or more of these 45-90 minute long flare-ups over the course of a single day, leading to the name ‘cluster’ headaches. These recurring bouts, called ‘cluster periods’ can last weeks or months, with sometimes equally long periods of near or total remission. Unlike with migraines, cluster headache sufferers prefer to remain active rather than lie down and rest. When the pain does go away, it usually dissipates as quickly as it started, leaving the individual pain-free but exhausted.
Other symptoms of a cluster headache:
- redness and tearing from one eye
- swelling of the area around the affected eye
- constricted pupil of the affected eye
- droopy eyelid
- runny nose and nasal congestion (typically in the nostril on the same side of the face as the pain)
- feeling restless and agitated
- facial pallor (pale skin)
- excessive sweating from the face
- occasional migraine-like symptoms of nausea and sensitivity to light or sound
As with tension headaches, the causes of cluster headaches are not fully understood, but because cluster headaches typically occur ‘like clockwork’, it is thought that a glitch in a person’s biological clock may be a factor. As such the hypothalamus, the seat of our biological clock, is believed to play a role. Abnormalities in hormone production (like cortisol and melatonin) and in neurotransmitter levels (like serotonin) may also come into play with cluster headaches. Furthermore, while alcohol is not known to incite a cluster period, it can seriously exacerbate them. Otherwise, triggers (like stress or food) don’t usually have anything to do with them.