Migraine or Cluster: Which Are You Having?

By Winslow

Headaches can come in various different forms. Tension headaches, sinus headaches, menstrual migraines and cluster headaches are just a few examples of these debilitating demons that plague a great deal of people.

It is estimated that 13% of Americans suffer from migraine headaches which calculates to around 38 million people. It is also estimated that 53 people per 100,000 will experience cluster headaches. (Statistics from the National Migraine Foundation)

I’m one of the lucky people who has both types of these headaches. I am writing this post to explain the differences between migraines and cluster headaches.

Let me first just say that both of these types of headaches are extremely debilitating but they have a different onset and treatment plan.


My migraines typically start out with an aura. Not everyone has an aura associated with migraines but for whatever reason, I do. I see little weird specks of light sometimes, other times its like one eye turns into a strobe light and all I see is flickering.

A little while after that, the pain starts on one side of my head. My eye hurts and the pain creeps into that side. Then comes the nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.

When I get these migraines, my first treatment steps are to take sumatriptan (an abortive medication) at the FIRST SIGN of my migraine. If I wait too late, it will NOT work. Then I lay down with a heating pad in a cool, dark room.

Cluster Headaches:

Unlike the migraines, the cluster headaches hit me hard and fast. It all of a sudden feels like I have been hit in the face with a sock filled with pool balls.

It usually attacks one side of my face. I have severe pain on one side, in my ear, my teeth hurt horribly and I usually lose my eyesight on the affected side. These headaches also make me feel horribly restless. They cause my eye to water and I get nasal congestion.

My treatment for these is usually to take Zyrtec and Toradol at the first onset. I put ice on my head and usually take a hot bath.

If  it doesn’t improve, I usually start vomiting and have to take a secondary treatment of Phenergan and try to sleep it off.

Causes for both headaches:

I find that my body is very sensitive to a lot of things that will trigger one of these headaches. With the clusters, if my cortisol is low (I have Addison’s disease) I will get an instant cluster attack.

With the migraines, low blood sugar, extreme heat, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance will trigger them.

My tips for prevention are:

1. Always make sure you eat regularly to prevent unstable blood glucose levels.

2. Stay hydrated. Utilize things like Pedialyte and Gatorade if you need to.

3. Sleep. Exhaustion can be a HUGE trigger.

4. Manage Stress. Being overwhelmed mentally can trigger headaches.

5. Avoid extreme temperatures. Don’t sweat to death and don’t freeze!

It can be easy to get caught up in your busy life and forget these simple things, but then you pay for it later.

Take care of yourself. You are worth it.

Wishing you hope, healing & happiness,

Love, Win

2 thoughts on “Migraine or Cluster: Which Are You Having?

  1. jayelle says:

    I get the strobe light aura. Few things fill me with such dread as walking into a darkened room and noticing that it’s flickering. Thanks for the tips!


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