Migraines and Cluster Headaches

Migraines and cluster headaches cause intense, throbbing pain on one side of the head. With a migraine, you may have nausea and vomiting and be sensitive to light and sound. You may also have warning signs, such as flashing lights or loss of parts of your vision, before the pain starts. This is called an aura. Migraines are 3 times more common in women than men. This may be due to hormonal changes during menstruation. Typical migraines may last for 4 to 72 hours untreated.

Cluster headaches recur in groups for days, weeks, or months. The pain is centered around or behind one eye. The eye may also become red or teary, or the eyelid may droop. Migraines and cluster headaches can have many triggers.

Man holding hand to forehead, looking distressed.

Preventing migraines and cluster headaches

Try the following steps:

  • Don't eat aged cheeses, nuts, beans, chocolate, red wine, or foods that contain caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, nitrates, and MSG.

  • Try not to skip meals.

  • Don’t work in poor lighting.

  • Reduce stress as much as you can.

  • Get plenty of sleep each night.

  • Exercise regularly under your doctor’s guidance.

  • Don't take headache medicines for more than 3 days, because of the risk of rebound headaches.

  • Don't take certain prescription medicines that are known to cause rebound headaches.

Relieving the pain

Try these suggestions:

  • Stay quiet and rest.

  • Use cold to numb the pain. Wrap ice or a cold can of soda in a cloth. Hold it against the site of pain for 10 minutes. Repeat every 20 minutes.

  • Stay out of the light. Wear dark glasses, turn out lights, and close the curtains. When outdoors, wear a brimmed hat.

  • Drink lots of fluids. Sip caffeine-free flat soda to help relieve nausea.

  • See your doctor if you get migraines or cluster headaches often. There are effective medicines to help treat or prevent them.

  • Hormone therapy. This may help women whose migraines are related to hormonal changes during menstruation.