Treatments for cluster headaches include those that lessen the impact of the headaches when they occur, and those that control the number of actual occurrences. It may take time to find the medicine or medicines that work best for you, including weighing any possible side effects.
One of the fast-acting treatments that can be used for cluster headaches sounds simple: oxygen. At the onset of one of these headaches, breathing 100% oxygen at a certain rate over a short amount of time can provide dramatic relief. The downside to this treatment is that you need to have an oxygen tank, calibration regulator, and a mask available. The up side is that if your attacks generally occur at night, you can keep this equipment bedside.
Another treatment is called non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation. Here, a handheld device held to a certain point on the neck provides electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve — the longest cranial nerve, which also passes through the neck and thorax to the abdomen — through the skin. Unlike the stimulators that are used for migraines, this device is not implanted under the skin, but is administered externally instead.
More invasive, but also fast-acting, are triptans. These injectables are generally used for migraines, but can be effective for cluster headaches. The first injection is given under medical supervision.
Additionally, there are several types of preventive treatments available for cluster headaches, including a few classes of medication: anti-psychotics; calcium-channel blockers; and anticonvulsants. These types of medicines are generally administered at the start of a cluster cycle; you continue to take them during the length of time that the cycle generally occurs. Each of these types of medicines has its own benefits and risks; your physician at the St. Luke’s Headache Center will advise you as to which course of action is best for you.
Alternative medicines are being looked at for their effectiveness in controlling cluster headaches as well. Of these, melatonin — which is a sleep regulator — has shown promise in small studies. Capsaicin — an extract of chili peppers — has also shown effectiveness when administered through the nose.