Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date.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. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2013;88(2):online

See related article on cluster headache

What is a cluster headache?

A cluster headache is a rare type of headache in which there is very bad pain on one side of the head, often around the eye. The pain lasts from 15 minutes to two hours, but comes back at about the same time each day. The pain may happen up to eight times in a single day.

Are there any other symptoms?

With the headache, you may notice other changes on the same side of your face, such as eye redness or tearing, stuffy or runny nose, or swelling of the eyelid, forehead, or face. You may also have a droopy eyelid or changes in the size of the pupil.

Who gets it?

Cluster headache is more common in men than in women. It usually starts between 20 and 40 years of age.

How is it treated?

Treatment starts with avoiding things that trigger the headache. These can include alcohol, tobacco smoke, nitroglycerin (a medicine for certain heart conditions), or things you may be allergic to. Once symptoms start, oxygen therapy or prescription medicines are the best treatments. Your doctor may also prescribe medicines that can reduce the number of headaches.

What can I do to prevent it?

Identifying and avoiding the things that trigger your headache is important. It may help to keep a record of when your symptoms start and what you are doing before they begin.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

AAFP's Patient Education Resource

American Headache Society

National Headache Foundation

Organization for Understanding Cluster Headaches

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