Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Cluster headache

2-minute read

Cluster headaches are rare headaches that occur in a group, or cluster.

People who get them find they have frequent headaches for weeks or months, then none for a long time. In a few people, the headaches come on continuously. They happen more in the night than during the day, and often at the same time each night. They are very painful.

The headaches occur on one side of the face, often around or behind the eye. They can last anywhere between 15 minutes and three hours. They can happen as often as 8 times in one day, or once every couple of days. Many people also have, on the same side of the face:

  • a red and weepy eye
  • a drooping or swollen eyelid
  • a runny or blocked nose
  • sweaty skin.

They might also feel restless or agitated.


Nobody knows what causes cluster headaches.

Cluster headaches sometimes run in families. People who get them are more likely to smoke heavily, drink heavily, drink a lot of caffeine and feel a lot of stress, but they can happen to anybody.


Your doctor will talk to you and examine you. There is no specific test for cluster headache, but your doctor may do tests to rule out other conditions.


Treatment and prevention of cluster headaches can be difficult. The usual painkillers often don’t work.

There are a range of medicines that can help prevent a cluster starting. Talk to your doctor about these.

If you are in the middle of a cluster, you can reduce your chances of having a headache by getting plenty of sleep, and sleeping at the same time each night, and also by avoiding alcohol completely. You should also try to get regular sleep, avoid stress or strenuous physical activity, and avoid a high altitude.

If you get a cluster headache, then you can try:

  • medicines – talk to your doctor
  • oxygen through a mask
  • a nasal spray of local anaesthetic.

Talk to your doctor about these.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your , why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).


Headache Australia (Cluster headache), MyVMC (Cluster headache), Cochrane (Normobaric and hyperbaric oxygen therapy for the treatment and prevention of migraine and cluster headache)

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Headaches: the different types -

Find out about the different types of headaches, including tension headache, cluster headache, and migraine, among others.

Read more on myDr website

Cluster Headache - Headache Australia

Cluster headache is an extraordinarily painful, rare (affects about 1 per 1000, estimated 14,000 Australians) chronic disease affecting five times as many men as women. Cluster headaches usually develop between the ages of 20 and 40. It occurs rarely in children and is extremely rare after 70-75. The term cluster is used as the attacks... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Intracranial Hypertension - Brain Foundation

Intracranial Hypertension Description Read more at Headache Australia (a division of Brain Foundation) Further Information and Support Click here for the latest Australian research papers on Intracranial Hypertension AustralianIntracaranial Hypertension Hypertension Australia (IHA) is a non-profit health promotion organisation whose goal is to provide information and support to patients, their families and... Read more

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Headache Management - Headache Australia

Towards a Better Life Headache is a very individual condition. It is not life threatening but it can profoundly affect quality of life. Headache sufferers are uniquely placed in that they can determine factors common to their own condition, learn more about their own condition and headache in general, and develop a plan to manage... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Headache and Pain Clinics - Headache Australia

Headache and pain clinics are normally located at major hospitals and may be conducted by specialist doctors or multidisciplinary teams taking a holistic approach to treatment. A referral from a general practitioner is generally required. ACT Pain Management UnitBuilding 8, Canberra HospitalYamba DriveGarran, ACT 2605 (02) 6244-3055 NEW SOUTH WALES The Combined Neurology... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) - Headache Australia

Read more on Headache Australia website

Avoiding triggers - Headache Australia

Factors that trigger migraines vary from person to person. Identifying triggers may be complicated by the fact that it often takes a combination of triggers to set off a migraine. For some people, migraines may be triggered by certain foods, such as chocolate or aged cheeses, or red wine. In others, stress or too little... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Is preventive treatment right for me? - Headache Australia

Answer the four questions below to find out if preventive medication may be right for you. 1. In any given month, do you have two or more migraine attacks that impact your daily activities for three or more days? Yes No 2. Do recurring migraines have a significant impact on your daily routines, despite acute... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Migraine Management Tips - Headache Australia

Take note: track your condition in a headache diary Its important to be organized and informed about your migraine attacks and how they impact your life. Tracking this information in a headache diary and then sharing the details with your physician will help ensure that you and your healthcare provider can put together an effective... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Treatment Options - Headache Australia

It is important to discuss with your healthcare professional your treatment options. If the medication that you are currently on is ineffective, there may be other treatment options that will be effective. Medications are available that you can take when you start to experience a migraine attack to help reduce the symptoms associated with migraine.... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo