Cluster Headache

The below information is purely for educational purposes and does not constitute medical advice. This content should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.

Cluster Headache: What is a Cluster Headache?

Cluster headache consists of agonising attacks of pain typically felt on one side of the head, often around the eye area or the forehead. These attacks typically last for anywhere between 15 to 180 minutes. They are more common in men and attacks tend to begin between the age of 30 and 50. Fortunately, cluster headaches are relatively rare, and treatments are available to lessen the pain of attacks and even prevent future attacks.

The condition is called cluster headache because attacks occur at the same time each day for several weeks. The attacks can be particularly agitating and disabling.

It is important to speak to your GP as soon as possible if you suspect you have had or are experiencing a cluster headache.

What Causes Cluster Headaches?

Risk factors for developing cluster headache include male sex, a family history, and prior head injury.

There are certain triggers, but the exact cause is unknown. Triggers include:

  • Consumption of alcohol during a bout of attacks
  • Strong-smelling chemicals such as perfume/aftershave, petrol, paint and other DIY products (typically those containing Volatile Organic Compounds ).
  • Overheating during exercise
  • Smoking

Cluster Headache Symptoms

Cluster headache is characterised by excruciating pain, typically on one side of the head around the eye area or the temple. The pain is often felt on the same side of the head during each attack and is typically severe and disabling. An attack can lead to the sufferer rocking, pacing or even banging one’s head against the wall.

Additional possible symptoms of cluster headache include:

  • A red, watering eye on the affected side
  • The drooping/swelling of the eyelid on the affected side
  • A smaller pupil in the eye on the affected side
  • Sweating
  • A blocked or runny nostril, again, on the affected side
  • Nausea and vomiting

Cluster Headache Prevention

There are preventative treatments for cluster headache. The first line preventative treatment is a calcium-channel blocker called verapamil which is taken orally, however other medications and even surgery may play a role for some individuals. Preventative treatment may be necessary for those who experience chronic cluster headaches to ensure they can lead a normal life.

Cluster Headache Treatment

Over-the-counter pain relief is not typically effective for cluster headache. Specialist treatments and medication for cluster headache are available and should be implemented as soon as an attack begins. These include:

  • Sumatriptan injections – usually effective within 15 minutes, can be injected twice daily
  • Sumatriptan or zolmitriptan nasal spray – a fast-acting alternative to injections if preferred
  • Oxygen therapy whereby one breathes pure oxygen through a face mask. Studies suggest the use of oxygen for cluster headache works by contracting the cerebral vessels which widen during a cluster headache attack.

Cluster Headache and Medicinal Cannabis

Research into the effect of medicinal cannabis on pain associated with cluster headache is limited. However, following the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes in 2018, there has been a rise in people looking towards medical cannabis. When first-line therapies have not proved effective at reducing symptoms, medical cannabis may be considered an option for cluster headache.

For further information and to find out more about medical cannabis, click here to discover more about our multi-award-winning Sapphire Access Scheme. Alternatively, complete an eligibility assessment now. Once complete, one of our clinicians will review your application and advise whether you are eligible for progression to an appointment.

Cluster Headache FAQs

Accordion Content

Cluster headache is characterised by excruciating attacks of pain in the head, usually on one side of the head around the eye or temple.

Accordion Content

There is no evidence of cluster headache being life-threatening, however, they are excruciatingly painful and can cause disorientation and irrational behaviour due to the severity of the pain.

Accordion Content

You will experience agonising pain, usually in one side of the head that lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours. Unlike other headaches, the pain from a cluster headache is reported to be unbearable and cannot be relieved using over-the-counter medications.

Accordion Content

There are a few treatment options to relieve cluster headaches at home, these are:

  • Sumatriptan injections, sumatriptan or zolmitriptan nasal spray, or oxygen therapy.
  • In addition to treatment of acute attacks, it is also important to avoid exacerbating factors, such as smoking.
  • Finally, preventative medications and/or surgery may be applicable for certain individuals.
Accordion Content

Drinking water during a cluster headache is not known to directly relieve symptoms.

Accordion Content

Remission from cluster headache is normal and can last months or even years. Some people report having experienced one bout of cluster headaches without recurrence, other sufferers experience them daily in bouts that last for weeks or months at a time before they go back into remission. Recurrences and periods of remission vary from person to person.

Accordion Content

A cluster headache attack typically lasts between 15 and 180 minutes.

Arrange an Appointment

If you are a patient or carer seeking an appointment to discuss treatment with medical cannabis, you can complete this form and we can assist you with this.

Eligible patients can provide us with their healthcare records or we can obtain these through your GP. This is to confirm that a patient’s condition has been fully assessed and all other treatment options have been attempted. We will ensure that the primary care provider receives all treatment communication to maintain the highest level of clinical governance.

We also accept referrals from healthcare professionals.

To refer a patient to us, please click here to fill and securely submit a referral form.


Sapphire Access Scheme


£ 50


£ 50


£ 50

Average Cost of Treatment

To help patients understand the likely cost of treatment, we have outlined the average cost to a patient with chronic pain. Cost of medication varies on an individual patient bases.


Inclusive Of Appointments And Medicine


Inclusive Of Appointments And Medicine
No repeat prescription fee

Average cost to a patient with chronic pain using dried cannabis flower


Inclusive Of Appointments And Medicine


Inclusive Of Appointments And Medicine
No repeat prescription fee
For more details including some exceptions, see full price list: