People with migraine headaches will often go to the pain clinic for relief and to prevent the recurrence of their headaches. Cluster headaches are also considered one of the most painful headaches an individual can experience. These headaches typically wake the person during the night and are marked by intense pain of the eye or the area surrounding the eye on one side of the head. The headaches occur frequently during periods of weeks or months that are known as “cluster periods” followed by periods of remission during which there are no headaches at all.
While cluster headaches are not life-threatening, many people who experience them find the pain so debilitating that they seek treatment at a pain clinic during the cluster periods. With the appropriate treatment, the severity of the pain can be minimized and the cluster periods shortened. Fast-acting treatments are required because the headaches come on quickly and with such severity.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Cluster Headaches
• Excruciating Pain – While the pain associated with these headaches is usually limited to the area in or around one eye, it may also be experienced to other areas of the face, neck, head and shoulders.
• Pain limited to one side of the head
• Excessive watering of the eyes
• Redness in the affected eye
• Sweaty, pale skin
• Droopy eyelid
One significant difference between cluster headaches and migraines is that lying down during an attack will only increase the pain. Although the individual may experience some of the similar symptoms of migraine, they are limited to one side of the head. The cluster period can last between six and twelve weeks and will often occur during the same periods of time each year. During that period, the headaches will occur daily, often multiple times. Individual attacks last anywhere from fifteen minutes to several hours, often taking place at night during sleep.
Treating Cluster Headaches
There is no cure for cluster headaches, only treatments that help decrease the severity of the attacks. Some of the fast-acting treatments used at the pain clinic include:
• Trigger Point Injections –A numbing agent is injected into the problematic area to reduce the severity and frequency of pain.
• Sumatriptan Injections – This drug is often used in its inject able form to treat migraines and is also effective at treating cluster headaches. It is not recommended for those who have heart disease or uncontrolled hypertension.
• Occipital Nerve Block – Lidocaine and Dexamethasone are combined and injected into the area at the back of the head near the neck.
• Pain Creams – These are formulated specifically for the patient and have proven effective at decreasing the severity of headaches.
• Inhaling Oxygen – Some patients find relief from inhaling 100% oxygen but others are unable to use it due to side effects.
The physicians at the pain clinic will sometimes use NSAIDs and narcotics for the most severe cases along with muscle relaxants to relax the muscle of the head and alleviate the pain. Therapeutic remedies are also used to reduce the symptom of pain.