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Natural Remedies for Cluster Headache

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Updated September 24, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Is a Cluster Headache?

Cluster headache is a type of pain that occurs in brief, severe attacks that affect only one side of the head. Cluster headaches often occur repeatedly throughout the day for weeks or months at a time, and then stop for several weeks or months. As with migraine headaches, the pain can be extremely intense or even unbearable.

Symptoms of Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are characterized by a burning, stabbing, steady pain that often occurs in and around one eye. The pain may quickly intensify, peaking within 10 minutes and lasting 30 minutes to three hours.

Cluster headaches most commonly strike two to three hours after falling asleep, and tend to occur at about the same time every night.

Attacks may be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • swelling around the eyes
  • excessive tears
  • bloodshot eyes
  • runny nose (or stuffy nose on the same side as the head pain)
  • flushed face
  • agitation
  • Causes of Cluster Headaches

    The exact cause of cluster headache is unknown. However, the condition may be related to abnormalities in blood vessels and nerves that affect parts of the head involved in cluster headache attacks.

    Men, adults age 20 and older, and people with a family history of cluster headaches appear to be at an increased risk for the condition. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and being under stress can also raise your risk for a cluster headache attack.

    Treatment

    When left untreated, cluster headaches can occur repeatedly for years and interfere with your daily functioning. Although the following standard treatments won't cure cluster headaches, they can help ease your symptoms:

  • use of pain-relieving medication
  • oxygen therapy
  • physical therapies (such as hot and cold treatments)
  • injections
  • surgery
  • Natural Remedies for Cluster Headache Relief

    If you experience cluster headache attacks, talk to your doctor about using the following natural remedies and alternative therapies:

    1) Melatonin

    People with cluster headaches may have low levels of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. Although scientists have yet to confirm whether taking melatonin supplements can benefit people with cluster headaches, a small study published in 2001 found that melatonin helped alleviate attacks.

    2) Capsaicin

    When taken regularly, capsaicin (the active ingredient in hot peppers) may help prevent the occurrence of cluster headache attacks. Available in nasal spray form, capsaicin is thought to reduce levels of substance P (a nervous system chemical involved in pain transmission).

    3) Mind-Body Stress Relief

    Stress is a trigger for cluster headache attacks. Although practices such as yoga and meditation haven't been specifically studied for their effects on cluster headache occurrence, they may help stave off attacks by keeping your stress in check.

    Sources:

    Fusco BM, Marabini S, Maggi CA, Fiore G, Geppetti P. "Preventative effect of repeated nasal applications of capsaicin in cluster headache." Pain. 1994 59(3):321-5.

    Leone M, Lucini V, D'Amico D, Moschiano F, Maltempo C, Fraschini F, Bussone G. "Twenty-four-hour melatonin and cortisol plasma levels in relation to timing of cluster headache." Cephalalgia. 1995 15(3):224-9.

    Peres MF, Rozen TD. "Melatonin in the preventive treatment of chronic cluster headache." Cephalalgia. 2001 21(10):993-5.

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