Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Cluster Headaches


Am Fam Physician. 2005 Feb 15;71(4):728.

What is a cluster headache?

A cluster headache is a rare kind of headache. It happens in a cluster or bunch that can last for weeks or months. During a cluster, the headaches happen every day. In between clusters, there usually are no headaches. A few people have the headaches all the time.

Cluster headaches cause severe pain in or around one eye. Your eye may get red or watery, and you might have a runny nose or stuffiness on the side with the pain. Each headache usually lasts from 30 minutes to three hours. During a cluster headache, you may feel restless and nervous.

What causes cluster headaches?

No one knows what causes these headaches. Cluster headaches are not a sign of another disease.

How are cluster headaches treated?

The best treatment usually is to breathe oxygen through a face mask for 15 minutes during the headache. Another treatment that can help is a shot or nasal spray of a medicine called sumatriptan (say: soo-mah-trip-tan).

If you have a lot of cluster headaches, you may need to take medicine every day. Talk with your doctor about the right treatment for you.

What else can I do to stop cluster headaches?

Certain things can start a headache during a cluster. Common triggers are drinking alcohol and smoking. Certain medicines, such as the nitrates used for heart problems, can trigger this kind of headache.

How can I help someone who has cluster headaches?

For some people, the pain from cluster headaches can be so bad that they will bang their heads against a wall. This can be scary for the family. Just remember that the pain will stop. Be supportive and help with medicine. It can be stressful to have a family member with cluster headaches. Talk with your doctor if you are worried.

Where can I get more information?

  • Your doctor.

  • Web site:

  • Web site:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2005 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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