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Cluster Headache Triggers: Knowing What to Avoid

Tagged as a condition that affects young people between the ages of 20-40, cluster headaches are known to affect men more than women. But the number of women being diagnosed with this type of headache is on the rise as well. Those who have been diagnosed would know that there are no absolute cures for such headache and managing the pain is the only way to treat it. Doctors often prescribe drugs and other forms of treatment to manage the pain, shorten the duration of the pain, or lessen the number of attacks during each cluster. Prevention is still better than cure, which is why it is important to know what triggers this type of headache in order to prevent attacks from happening.

What Triggers Cluster Headaches?

The true cause of cluster headaches is still unknown; however, experts have identified certain foods, drinks and other factors that may trigger an attack in people who have already been experiencing attacks. The common triggers for this type of headache include:

  • Alcohol. People with a history of cluster headache attacks must stay away from alcoholic beverages and over-the-counter medications that contain alcohol. The fastest triggers are red wine and beer. Even a small amount of alcohol can trigger these attacks, so it’s best for people who experience these headaches to avoid it completely.
  • Sudden temperature / season change. This trigger is not easy to avoid. We cannot stop the seasons from changing and we sometimes have to go to a cold place after being in a warm place and vice versa.
  • Tobacco. Smoking tobacco doesn’t trigger an attack, but if one is already experiencing the headache, the tobacco intensifies the pain and prolongs it. For non-smokers, the odor of tobacco smoke can trigger an attack.
  • Stress. Stress can trigger a number of different types of headaches, including cluster headaches. It is important to stay calm even in stressful situations in order to avoid headaches of any kind.
  • Chocolate. Any food item that contains chocolate can trigger an attack. Some experts say that eating dark chocolate can trigger more intense attacks than other chocolate variants.
  • Strong scents. Perfume, cologne and other strong odors can trigger an attack within the cluster cycle, so use body and room fragrances sparingly.
  • Processed meats. Ham, bacon, sausages, and other forms of processed meat have been known to potentially trigger attacks. This is because of the nitrates that serve as preservatives in processed meats.
  • Cultured dairy products. Not all cheese and dairy products can trigger attacks. It’s best to get rid of aged and cultured cheeses and other dairy products to avoid setting off another headache attack.

Preventing Cluster Headache Attacks

Preventing an attack from happening is way better than trying to manage or reduce the pain when experiencing a severe kind of headache. Avoiding foods, drinks and other factors that may trigger the headache can reduce the risk of having an attack. However, not all triggers apply to everyone with this condition, so it’s best to study our eating habits and take note of what food we ate or the environment we were in preceding each attack. This way, we have an idea of what triggers affect us personally, so we can avoid them in the future. The changes in our diets and lifestyle may be as simple as avoiding some guilty pleasures and eating more of the healthier options, or these adjustments could require us to make a total lifestyle change in order to avoid having these terrible headache attacks.

Despite the severity of pain a person feels during this cluster period when attacks are common, this type of headache is not related to any underlying conditions that may be life threatening. However, it is still always a good idea to consult a doctor when experiencing cluster headaches in order to get proper pain management and treatment of the condition.