For some people, summer is a serious headache — literally. Cluster headaches affect about a million Americans and typically start at the beginning of a new season.
For many sufferers, that season is summer.
Cluster headaches last about an hour. The pain hits right behind the eyes, and it’s intense.
“People will rock, they’ll bounce up and down, some of them will bang their heads on the floor or punch the wall,” said William Young, a Jefferson University professor.
Young, who treats patients with cluster headaches, said the daily attacks usually last for about two or three months. For most sufferers, the ordeal begins at the same time each year.
For some patients, preventive treatments help. And, in those cases, the seasonal nature of the pain is helpful.
“If they respond to their medicines, you know when they are going to go into cycle next year,” he said. “The whole system is set up. They get their first twinge, or first attack, the treatments work, they get started. As soon as they are out of cycle, they go off their medicines. It’s really a beautiful thing.”
Patients who don’t respond to preventive treatments need steroid shots or breathe in pure oxygen to find relief. Young says there’s simply not enough research on this disorder.
“Essentially nothing has ever been funded by government for the treatment or understanding of cluster headaches,” he said. “I think that all headaches are stigmatized, and it’s hard, there is no animal model for this kind of headache.”
Men are more likely than women to suffer from cluster headaches. The typical onset is around the age of 20.