A Cluster Headache Attack

The following is a description of what it feels like to experience a cluster headache attack. Cluster headaches range in intensity and any seasoned cluster headache patient knows well how to quickly rate the pain they are feeling on a scale of 1-10. The following is an example of a level 8 cluster headache attack.


Woke up around 8am, grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down in the living room. From my chair I can look out through a large window in the front of the house. Looks like a fantastic day but it’s probably a little chilly. I grab my laptop to check messages and see who’s been posting on the message boards.
I have a bit of a shadow headache going, probably remnants of the nasty hit I had last night at around midnight. My eye feels sore, like I was punched, but instead of the punch hitting my face it hit right on my eye. I wonder if it’s bloodshot. The shadow headache isn’t like a cluster attack at all, but it hurts in the same places. Above and below my eye, behind my eye, around my cheekbone, and then across my temple back to just behind my ear. My right side feels perfectly fine. My left feels like I was in a battle of some sort and on the mend.
There’s a bird outside the window, pecking at something on the deck railing. The coffee is good and hot. I like a good dark roast in the morning. Hopefully today’s going to be better than yesterday. I was hit three times yesterday, including the midnight hit. That kept me up until about 2am. It’s never good for me to go either short or long on sleep.
There’s a particularly interesting post on the Facebook site about young people and CH that I’ll respond to. The question is related to misdiagnosis of cluster headaches at an early age and eventual diagnosis as much as ten years later. I don’t really know much about this, but I’m interested for the sake of my daughters. I can’t imagine what those kids deal with from parents, teachers, friends and doctors who don’t understand what they’re going through.
As I begin typing, the intensity of pain in my eye, actually behind my eye, is increasing rapidly. For me, this is a sign that I’m going to get hit. Before I can react, I get a jolt of pain across my eye, temple, and side of my head. It was really intense, but it subsided. I’m ok. I keep typing, but after less than a sentence it’s back with a vengeance. I’m in severe pain now with jolts of excruciating pain. It’s on me.
I get up from my chair and grab the oxygen. Now I’m just barely holding it together, fumbling with turning on the oxygen. I have no idea where I left my Imitrex injections. Nobody’s home. The flipping oxygen mask is tangled up, so I’m madly doing what I can to untangle it while I start a sort of epileptic dance of pain. It’s so intense, like fire and shards of glass rambling about in my head. My inner ear hurts. Not like the headache, more like somebody has a hold of it and is twisting it up. I’m tearing from my left eye and my nose is running uncontrollably on the same side. I shout a little bit with each major jab of pain and I’m surprised by that. It’s not something I’ve thought about, it just happens.
I can’t really stand up, and I can’t really sit down. I’m back in the chair with the oxygen on, but I’m bouncing around like an idiot. Jesus, how can something hurt so bad? Can I go find my Imitrex or something to help make this go away?!? Not possible, I’m too far in it. Huffing the oxygen seems to be helping a little. Man, 20 minutes have passed, make it stop. Please, make it stop.
Five more minutes of sheer agony. Now a vice is crushing the top left side of my head. The sharpness is giving way to a deep, dull ache. I think the battle’s nearly over. A few more intense jabs of pain, not like a sharp poker, but more like a dull pointed stick coming through my eye and back into my brain, then josseled around a bit. It’s awful.
50 minutes in and I think it’s subsided. I’m back to the shadowy dull pain that I had earlier, only now it’s a bit more intense than before. It seems to be swirling around in my head. The vice-like pain seems to have left some kind of bruise, not on the outside, but inside. It’s an uncomfortable kind of pain.
I look up and then around the room to reorient myself. I look out the window, realigning myself with reality. The bird is gone. It’s time to get up and get going.

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