Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2005;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?

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