A cluster headache is a short but intense pain that usually strikes the area around one of your eyes. The pain is so intense that it can feel even worse than a migraine, but fortunately, it doesn’t stick around for nearly as long. On the other hand, cluster headaches also tend to hit you over and over again across a few days or weeks, and that’s where the “cluster” part of the name comes from. They aren’t a common kind of headache, but those who suffer from them always know it.
The causes of cluster headaches aren’t well understood. However, it’s clear enough where the pain is coming from: it’s a nerve called the trigeminal nerve, and it stretches from the side of the brain out to the forehead, the eyes, the cheeks, the jaw, and the ear. There are two trigeminal nerves, one for each side of the head, which is why cluster headaches usually happen on the left or the right but rarely both.
The timing of cluster headaches is remarkably regular, which appears to mean they have something to do with the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the official name for the body’s internal clock, and it decides when you should feel alert, when you should feel sleepy, and when your metabolism needs to ramp up. No one yet knows why the circadian rhythm causes cluster headaches, but there are some educated guesses out there that might explain it.
When cluster headaches hit, they can attack several times per day for several weeks in a row. Between these attacks, you can be completely free of cluster headaches for several more weeks or even several months. The most common times they hit are during long summer days, long winter nights, and just after the Daylight Savings jumps in fall and spring. This connection to light levels and light changes is another reason why doctors think cluster headaches are connected to the circadian rhythm.
If you suffer from cluster headaches, there are a few things you can do to prevent them or at least reduce the pain. Melatonin supplements could help since that’s the hormone that controls your circadian rhythm. Other helpful drugs include calcium channel blockers, anti-seizure medication, and lithium, but you should always see a doctor first. You should also avoid alcohol, tobacco, high temperatures, and daytime naps that could throw off your internal clock. While the circadian rhythm is the most likely culprit, these other factors are also common headache triggers.
Cluster headaches are painful and repetitive, but you can get through them. Something else you can get through is school, especially if you have a tutor who can help you through the hard parts. If you’re in need of a professional-grade tutor and you don’t want to have to interview a dozen applicants, you can find one online through the Train the Brains service whether the student in question is in elementary school, high school, or college.