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Cluster Headache: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Cluster headaches are very painful. They happen on one side of the head and usually occur in groups, or clusters, over weeks or months. This type of headache often starts at night and can last for 30 minutes to several hours. You may have a stuffy nose and watery eyes during the headaches. The cause of cluster headaches is not known.

Medicine may help prevent cluster headaches. You also can try to avoid things that trigger your headaches.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Watch for new symptoms with a headache. These include fever, weakness or numbness, vision changes, or confusion. They may be signs of a more serious problem.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If your doctor recommends it, take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Carry medicine with you to quickly treat a headache.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • If your doctor prescribed at-home oxygen therapy to stop a cluster headache, follow the directions for using it.

To prevent cluster headaches

  • Keep a headache diary. Avoiding triggers may help you prevent headaches. Write down when a headache begins, how long it lasts, and what might have triggered it. This could include stress, alcohol, or certain foods.
  • Exercise daily to lower stress.
  • Limit caffeine by not drinking too much coffee, tea, or soda. But do not quit caffeine suddenly, because that can also give you headaches.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Tell your doctor if your headaches get worse and medicines do not help. You may need to try a different medicine.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • You are sensitive to light or feel very sleepy or confused.
  • You have new nausea and vomiting and you cannot keep down food or liquids.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You have a headache that does not get better within 1 or 2 days.
  • Your headaches get worse or happen more often.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.