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Seasonal Changes and Cluster Headaches

Does the Time of Year Affect Cluster Headaches?

Kara Mayer Robinson
WebMD Feature

Reviewed by
Laura J. Martin, MD

The changing of seasons can trigger cluster headaches, which happen one or more times a day for a few weeks or months.

Clusters are common in the fall and spring, when we adjust our clocks for daylight saving time. They’re also common in January and February, when the days are short, and in July and August, when they’re long, says Brian M. Grosberg, MD, director of the Montefiore Headache Center in New York.

Recommended Related to Migraines/Headaches

What Are Migraines, and Why Do They Happen?


Migraines are headaches that cause severe, throbbing pain, often along with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound. They generally last between 4 and 72 hours. Many people feel symptoms before their migraine starts that signal that one is coming on. Those are called an aura and usually last under an hour.
Symptoms of an aura include:

Changes in your vision (even brief blindness)
Visual blind spots in your visual field
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Because they can be seasonal, people often mistake them for headaches caused by allergies, sinusitis, or stress.

What’s the Link?

One possible reason is changes in the length of the days.

When the seasons shift, so does the amount of sunlight you get. For instance, people who live in the Northern Hemisphere get more direct light in the summer. Then, in the winter, you get indirect sunlight. It’s the opposite if you live south of the equator.

More or less sunlight can change your body’s sleep-wake cycle, and that can lead to your head pain.

Symptoms of Seasonal Cluster Headaches

You may get:

1. Severe pain behind or around your eye. It can be more intense than a migraine.

2. Periods of pain. Your headaches happen several times a day for a few weeks or months, which are called “cluster periods.”

3. Breaks between attacks. You can go long amounts of time between cluster periods with no headache pain.

4. Headaches around the same time every year. January, February, July August, fall, and spring are common.

5. Or around the same time of day or night. They tend to peak between 1-2 a.m., 1-3 p.m., and 9 p.m., Grosberg says, but attacks can happen at any time.

6. Pain that wakes you up. You may get up during the night because of pain. Some people wake up 1-2 hours after going to bed.

7. Extreme alertness during cluster periods. People who get this type of headache “seem to be hyper-aroused and alert, often pacing the room or feeling as if they must remain in constant motion,” says Allen A. Towfigh, MD, medical director of New York Neurology & Sleep Medicine.

Does the Time of Year Affect Cluster Headaches?

Tips to Avoid Cluster Headaches

You may want to ask your doctor about trying:

Melatonin. This is a hormone that your body makes to control sleep-wake cycles. You may have lower levels of it during cluster periods, especially when you have a headache.

Taking a melatonin supplement may help your sleep patterns. It hasn’t been proven to prevent cluster headaches, Grosberg says, but since there are no serious side effects, it’s worth trying 10 milligrams a night.

Preventive medication. It may help if your cluster headaches last more than 2 weeks.

These drugs include:

  • High blood pressure pills such as calcium channel blockers, like diltiazem (Cardizem, Cartia, Tiazac) and verapamil (Calan, Isoptin, Verelan)
  • Anti-seizure medications like divalproex (Depakote) and topiramate (Topamax, Topiragen)
  • The bipolar medication lithium

Doctors usually recommend that you take them daily.

Also, avoid common triggers during a cluster period.These include:

Alcohol. You’re more sensitive to its effects, so even small amounts can set off a headache. It’s OK to drink when you’re not in a cluster period.

Cigarettes. Smoking can make your headaches worse. Avoid other people’s smoke, too.

Foods with nitrates. These include bacon and preserved meats.

Medications that can widen (dilate) blood vessels. These drugs include nitroglycerin.

Taking daytime naps. This may interfere with your sleep patterns and make it harder for your body to stay well.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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