How to Treat Cluster Headaches Naturally & Reduce Symptoms


If you live with cluster headache attacks then you’ve undoubtedly spent time trying to learn how to help cluster headaches pass as quickly as possible. While you may not be able to permanently stop your cycles, there are some potential cluster headache treatments and prevention methods you can try to supplement efforts from your doctor.

Today, we’re discussing what these types of headaches are, common symptoms and triggers, as well as how to treat cluster headaches naturally. Read on for information on some natural remedies for cluster headaches that may improve your overall well-being.

What Is a Cluster Headache?

Before we discuss how to treat cluster headaches it’s important to have a firm understanding of what they are. Cluster headaches are a type of headache characterized by severe, excruciating pain on one side of the head. They are often misidentified as migraines but are a distinct type of headache.

What sets cluster headaches apart is their pattern of occurrence. Instead of occurring sporadically, cluster headaches come in cycles where those living with them experience periods of frequent attacks followed by periods of remission. These cycles can last for weeks or months and during a cycle, attacks often occur at the same time of day or night.

The exact cause of cluster headaches is not fully understood, but they are believed to be related to the activation of a specific nerve pathway in the brain.

Differences Between a Cluster Headache vs Migraine

Knowing how to treat cluster headaches is only effective if they are what you’re experiencing. Many people mistake a migraine for a cluster headache, but several key distinctions make them quite different from one another.

As you learn how to treat cluster headaches, you’ll see they differ from migraines by:

  1. Frequency and duration
  2. Pain intensity and location
  3. Timing and triggers
  4. Treatment response

1. Frequency and Duration

As the name suggests, cluster headaches occur in clusters. Roughly 80% of cluster headache cases are episodic1, meaning there will be a period of daily attacks, sometimes occurring several times a day, followed by a month or more of remission without the attacks occurring. The remaining 20% have no such breaks and are considered chronic.

Cluster headaches can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours at a time. Migraines, on the other hand, can occur sporadically and typically last longer than cluster headaches, lasting anywhere from a few hours to several days.

2. Pain Intensity and Location

The pain of a cluster headache is often described as excruciating and is usually felt on one side of the head. This pain location is most frequently around the eye. Conversely, migraine pain is typically moderate to severe and can occur on one or both sides of the head.

Migraine pain is often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

3. Timing and Triggers

Cluster headaches often occur at the same time each day or night and can be triggered by factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking, or certain foods. Migraines, on the other hand, can be triggered by a variety of factors, including hormonal changes, stress, and certain foods or environmental factors.

The primary difference here is that migraines may be triggered by these catalysts at any time, whereas cluster headaches are triggered during their active cycle.

Extra Info: Learn more about how to avoid migraine triggers with our guide. A few small adjustments can help you stay pain-free.

4. Treatment Response

Migraines and cluster headaches treatments are inherently different. While some over-the-counter (OTC) medications used for chronic migraine treatment may also be effective for cluster headaches, others, such as triptans, are not as effective for cluster headaches. Oxygen therapy and certain preventive medications are sometimes used to treat cluster headaches, but may not be as effective for migraines.

Additionally, cluster headaches often come on extremely quickly and may pass before the medication starts to kick in within your body. This makes treating cluster headaches with medication challenging for healthcare professionals.

Cluster Headaches Symptoms

Learning how to treat cluster headaches effectively also requires knowing the most common symptoms that one is likely to experience. These kinds of headaches are known for their distinct and intense symptoms, which can be debilitating for those affected.

Some of the key symptoms associated with cluster headaches are:

  • Severe pain: The primary symptom of a cluster headache is intense, stabbing pain on one side of the head. This pain is often described as excruciating and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours.
  • Watery eyes: Many people with cluster headaches experience excessive tearing or redness in one eye, which may be accompanied by a runny or congested nose on the same side.
  • Restlessness: During a cluster headache attack, individuals may feel restless or agitated, pacing or rocking back and forth in an attempt to cope with the pain.
  • Drooping eyelid or swelling: Some people may notice drooping of the eyelid or swelling around the eye during a cluster headache attack, known as Horner's syndrome.
  • Sensitivity to light and sound: Like migraines, cluster headaches may cause sensitivity to light and sound, making the environment feel more intense and uncomfortable.
  • Nausea and vomiting: While not as common as with migraines, some people with cluster headaches may experience nausea or vomiting during an attack.

It's important to note that the symptoms of a cluster headache can vary from person to person, and not everyone will experience all of these symptoms. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it's essential to seek medical attention for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Bonus Info: We’ve compared cluster headaches to migraines, but what about regular headaches? Learn more after this in our guide comparing a regular headache vs migraine to see more of the differences between them, as well.

How to Treat Cluster Headaches Naturally

For cluster headaches, treatments and results may vary from person to person. Generally speaking, however, methods for how to treat cluster headaches involve a combination of lifestyle modifications, alternative therapies, and the use of specific tools or equipment.

While these natural remedies for cluster headaches may not eliminate cluster headaches completely, they might help reduce the frequency and severity of attacks during your cycle:

  1. Lifestyle modifications
  2. Oxygen therapy
  3. Dietary changes
  4. Consistent sleep schedules
  5. Tools for cluster headaches treatments
  6. Alternative therapies

1. Lifestyle Modifications

Identifying and managing potential triggers is a vital step towards learning how to help cluster headaches and reducing the frequency of attacks during a cycle. Keeping a headache diary can help you track your attacks and identify potential patterns or triggers. Common cluster headache triggers during an active cycle include alcohol consumption, smoking, strong odors, and certain foods. Once you've identified your triggers, try to avoid or minimize exposure to them.

Managing stress is also important, as stress can trigger cluster headaches. Practice stress-reducing techniques such as calming breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga. Getting regular exercise, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and eating a healthy diet can also help manage cluster headaches.

Bonus Tip: Consider ways to combine methods for how to treat cluster headaches such as using zero gravity recliners during meditation for a deeper experience.

2. Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy is another potentially effective method to learn how to treat cluster headaches naturally. It works by having you inhale 100% oxygen through a mask at a high flow rate. This helps constrict blood vessels in the brain and reduce pain from cluster headache attacks. Oxygen therapy is typically considered most effective when used at the onset of a cluster headache and is typically administered for 15-20 minutes.

3. Dietary Changes

Some people find relief from cluster headaches by eliminating inflammatory foods from their diet. These include processed foods, refined sugars, and dairy products. Maintaining a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help reduce inflammation in the body and potentially reduce the frequency or severity of cluster headaches.

4. Consistent Sleep Schedules

While medical professionals don’t have a complete understanding of everything revolving around cluster headaches, there’s a growing sentiment within the community that getting more restorative sleep on a consistent schedule may help. Going to sleep and waking up at the same times each day regularizes the body’s circadian rhythms, which can help ease the onset of attacks and help with how to treat cluster headaches naturally.

5. Tools for Cluster Headaches Treatments

Using tools or equipment like heat therapy, cold compresses, and zero gravity recliners can provide relief during a cluster headache attack.

Both heat and cold have been shown to help reduce headache pain. For heat therapy, it’s important not to apply too much heat, which can serve as a trigger for these attacks. Instead, apply a low amount of heat mostly for pain relief to help with any heightened stress or anxiety. A cold compress for pain relief may be beneficial when applied gently to the affected area. Be sure to wrap the cold compress or ice pack in a thin towel first — never apply it directly to your skin.

Zero gravity chairs can help reduce pressure on the spine and promote relaxation. This can help calm yourself down during the heightened stress of a cluster headache. They may also be beneficial for helping you relax when the pain subsides. Heated zero gravity chairs combine multiple tools for how to help cluster headaches, making them the best of multiple options.

6. Alternative Therapies

Exploring alternative therapies such as acupuncture or biofeedback can also help manage cluster headaches. Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to help alleviate pain and promote healing. Biofeedback techniques can help you learn to control certain bodily functions, such as heart rate and muscle tension, which may help reduce the frequency and severity of cluster headaches.

Learning How to Help Cluster Headaches Is Ongoing

When it comes to how to treat cluster headaches, there will be a lot of trial and error. It’s an ongoing process that may require you to pivot your strategy to continue finding what works best. Consult your doctor to determine which natural remedies for cluster headaches you should consider and see what works best.

While cluster headache attacks can be debilitating, learning how to treat cluster headaches naturally may minimize the number of attacks you experience per cycle. Simple lifestyle adjustments, alternative therapies, or using tools like zero gravity chairs may reduce the impact of cluster headaches on your life and get you back to remission sooner.

Disclaimer: This content is not medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare professional when considering implementing changes to your health or workout routines to ensure it’s compatible with your needs.

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