If there is one thing worse than a headache, it’s a cluster headache. It’s the most painful affliction a person can experience. Some people describe cluster headaches as a “hot dagger being poked through the eye and into the brain.” Women even say labor pain is not as painful as a cluster headache. And while there are always methods for treating a cluster headache, people are more prone to looking for natural treatments.
Before we get to the treatments, let’s examine what a cluster headache is, the symptoms, and everything else.
What are cluster headaches?
The difference between any other headache and a cluster headache is in the cyclical pattern, popularly known as clusters. A cluster headache will awake you in the middle of the night with intense pain in or around one eye.
The cluster period (the time you experience headaches) can last from weeks up to months, and is usually followed by a remission period when your headaches stop. The remission period can last for months or years.
The good news is that cluster headaches are rare, and they are not life threatening. More good news: natural treatments can make the attacks shorter, less severe, and less frequent.
What is a cluster period?
As mentioned, a cluster period can last between days and months. Usually, it lasts between 6 and 12 weeks. The starting date and the duration can be consistent from period to period. For example, some people have experienced cluster periods that occur seasonally, like every spring.
Most people who suffer from cluster headaches have episodic cluster headaches. That means that the headache can occur for one week to a year, and then you have a pain-free remission period that can last up to 12 months.
What happens during the cluster period? Headaches occur every day, sometimes even several times per day, and a single attack can last between 15 minutes and three hours. The attacks often happen during the same time of the day, and most attacks occur at night. Usually, the attack happens two hours after you go to bed.
Symptoms of cluster headaches
As with most headaches, a cluster headache strikes quickly and without any warning. However, you might experience some migraine-like nausea before the strike.
Here are other common signs and symptoms:
- One-sided pain
- Excessive tearing
- Excruciating pain, usually localized in or around one eye, but it can radiate towards other areas of the face, neck, and shoulders
- Redness in the affected eye
- Stuffy or runny nose on the affected side
- Pale skin
- Swelling around the affected eye and the affected area
- Drooping eyelid
- Forehead or facial sweating
With that in mind, let’s look at the ways you can prevent (or at least reduce) the severity of the symptoms. As mentioned previously, we heavily favor the natural treatments.
1. Magnesium and vitamin B2
Usually, a headache occurs because of stiff muscles. Those who experience cluster headaches have low levels of magnesium. And this is a mineral that you absolutely must have to reduce the severity and symptoms of headaches.
It’s recommended that people suffering from cluster headaches take magnesium supplements. The recommended dose is 400mg of magnesium, three times per day, and one of those times should be before going to bed. As we said before, most of the attacks happen during the middle of the night.
As with magnesium, a vitamin B2 deficiency can also lead to increased headache symptoms, mostly because of inflammation and nerve damage. To reduce the symptoms and intensity of headaches, take 400mg of B12 per day.
Melatonin is a compound that vastly improves the quality of our sleep. People who have trouble sleeping often take melatonin supplements. It’s also a treatment for cluster headaches.
We mentioned that most of the attacks happen at night, so a peaceful sleep might help with that. Interestingly, some studies even show that people suffering from cluster headaches have reduced levels of melatonin.
Bear in mind that per the studies thus far, melatonin only helps in episodic cluster headache patients. Therefore, it’s best that you take some melatonin before the start of the cluster period.
3. Capsaicin cream
Another compound that can vastly help with cluster headache attacks is capsaicin cream. The main ingredient in the cream is cayenne pepper, which blocks nerve pain signals. Just a small amount of the cream applied to the inside of your nostril will help when you experience pain.
In addition, consuming capsaicin and cayenne pepper will reduce the number of headache attacks.
4. Kudzu extract
This extract, obtained from a semi-woody, leguminous vine, is native to Southeast Asia. For more than 2,000 years, kudzu has been used in alternative medicine for treatment of medical conditions, including acute dysentery, diarrhea, cardiovascular problems, fever, and diabetes. The kudzu root, from which the kudzu extract is obtained, contains more than 70 beneficial phytochemicals and phytonutrients, most notably isoflavonoids and triterpenoids.
Regular consumption of the kudzu extract can reduce the intensity, frequency, and duration of the attacks. And there are no reported side effects.
5. Go outside
If there is one free ingredient you can easily get to reduce the pain of cluster headaches, it’s oxygen—the quickest and best remedy. Therefore, it’s recommended that you take regular walks outside in clean air. When you feel a cluster attack is coming your way, just go outside and take several deep breaths of fresh air. Going hiking regularly will improve your resistance to cluster headaches, as you will deeply breathe oxygen on a regular basis.
Another free and easy treatment for headaches is exercise. By working out regularly, you reduce the stress in your life and improve your blood circulation. These two are ingredients for easily fighting off headaches. During the period between attacks, do some yoga, practice interval training, or do some cardio. Any form of exercise will help you reduce and relieve the symptoms of a cluster headache.
7. Sleep regularly
Maintaining a regular sleep pattern is extremely important to preventing headaches. Restless sleep equals stress, and stress contributes to headaches. When there are changes in your normal sleep schedule, cluster headaches usually strike. Therefore, make sure to keep your schedule regular. And if you need any help, yoga and exercise before going to bed help you sleep peacefully.
8. Breathing exercises
As noted earlier, your body and brain need more oxygen to fight off the headaches. In order to get more oxygen, you need to breathe properly. For that matter, you can practice some breathing exercises that help you get more oxygen. Practice deep and rhythmic breathing to put the body at ease. Yoga is great for people who have trouble breathing deeply. In fact, yoga combines exercise and deep breathing. So, hurray for that!
9. Drink ginger tea
Ginger is one of the healthiest ingredients you can find, no matter whether you suffer from headaches or not. There are so many beneficial compounds in ginger, and one of them is gingerol. This bioactive ingredient has therapeutic effects as well as powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
Ginger reduces pain by working on your vanilloid receptors. Furthermore, ginger relieves nausea, which is one of the symptoms of intense headaches. A cup of tea once or twice per day will vastly help with the symptoms and frequency of cluster headaches.
10. Use peppermint essential oil
If all else fails, try essential oil. Peppermint essential oil is one of the best natural treatments for headaches. Make sure to apply two or three drops of peppermint oil to the temples before and during the cluster headache attack. If you want extra help, apply few drops to the back of your neck and the bottom of your feet.