Conquering Seasonal Cluster Headaches
We’ve had a cold winter so far, but the season of change is upon us, and Spring is headed our way. Spring is the time of fruitful beginnings… and seasonal allergies, of course! This is the coming of one of the year’s most potent headache seasons. The change from summer to fall is another one.
Is It Allergies or Cluster Headaches?
Cluster headaches are especially prominent in the springtime. The seasonal change in weather is a common trigger. Cluster headaches are often mistaken for allergies or stress because of how they present themselves. They come and go over a period, with symptoms including tearing, runny nose, nasal congestion, sweating, and pain in the upper face or eye.
People with cluster headaches generally have them during a cluster period, which is one to three times each day at the same time every year. This can last from just a couple of weeks to several months. The headaches will often disappear for days, weeks, months, or even years, only to return sometime down the road. These types of headaches can wake you from sleep. The attacks are generally more severe than the ones that happen in the daytime, which may be because of the hormonal changes that happen during the sleep cycle.
The Traditional Medical Viewpoint
Most medical disciplines will recognize that seasonal changes can cause alterations in our body’s chemistry and influence our daily activities, which may lead to headaches. In Chinese medicine, it is believed that cluster headaches are related to the circulatory and cardiovascular systems. The physiological processes in our bodies change with the seasons; sleep and exercise patterns change; we cool or heat our rooms differently; sunny weather means we’ll squint our eyes more or change our posture to avoid the glaring sun; and we even wear different types of clothing for the change in our activity.
All of these can lead to cluster headaches. They can aggravate circulatory system issues or problems in the joints and spine, which can lead to headache. The painful headache that comes from these types of changes can seem sudden and “out of nowhere.” However, cluster migraines have quite a complex origin.
This is not to say that some headaches are not caused by allergies. There are definitely those kinds, where things like weather, travel, and emotional upset can be the last straw.
Atmospheric Changes as Triggers
Changes in the atmosphere can be a trigger for cluster headache symptoms. In the last three decades, many physicians have finally come to accept the fact that extreme changes in weather can have a significant effect on headaches, especially migraines.
Researchers in Canada, who look at the Chinook winds that come off the Rocky Mountains, have made great strides in this area of study. One study looked at the headache diaries of 75 people, and confirmed that the weather played a big role in their symptoms. The speculation is that weather affects the body’s pain “messengers” such as prostaglandins and serotonin, which may be responsible for making the headaches more severe.
Unfortunately, physicians in today’s modern field of medicine often overlook weather and atmospheric or seasonal changes as triggers; however, in Germany, some physicians use the national weather service bulletins to advise their headache patients in the management of their symptoms.
Dehydration as a Trigger
Dehydration is an indirect cause of cluster headaches. Without enough water, the body cannot flush out the toxins that build in the body. The headaches could be a reaction to that toxic build-up. The weather also plays a role here. When it’s hot, we may be sweating more so will need more replenishment. In the cold, dark wintry months, we are more prone to drinking hot dehydrating liquids like coffee and tea, so we need to raise our water supply then too.
The good news is that adequate water intake does not mean you have to drink straight from the cup or bottle. Vegetables and fruits carry a good amount of water in them. This will also provide the body with the vitamins and minerals needed to function properly, which often indirectly treat the cluster headaches. Four servings of veggies and four pieces of fruit can give you up to a liter of water, so be sure to add in those fresh fruits and veggies!
Cluster headaches can present as something resembling sinus headache or stress headache; however, if they are coming in bouts, or clusters, then it is likely they are not allergy related. The triggers, luckily, can be avoided, which we will discuss in another post. For now, suffice it to say that lots of water and preparedness in weather changes can make all the difference for a cluster migraineur.
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