It can be many times worse than a migraine -- a cluster headache, which has also been called the suicide headache because the pain is so intense. But unlike migraines, treatment for cluster headaches are limited. Researchers are calling for more funding to find better ways to treat this really severe pain.
Kirt Kessler describes a cluster headache as "almost like somebody is pouring liquid Drano into your brain"
The 51 year old, who drives a truck, started getting them about seven years ago.
"It’s the most unbearable pain you can imagine," said Kessler.
Neurologist Dr. William young describes a cluster headache as a violent storm of pain centered near the eye.
"The principle nerve involved is the trigeneal nerve to head and to eye," said Dr. William."The pain is so intense that people will be unable to sit still. They will rock, they pound, they scream, shout sometimes."
"It’s painful to watch somebody have a cluster headache having a cluster headache is unspeakable."
About 500,000, or one in a thousand, suffer with cluster headaches. They can be episodic, occurring in the same season or time of day, or chronic. But there has been very little research funding to find a cause of the disorder or develop medication for it.
"The new treatments, the new cures and the excitement in the field has been lacking,” said Dr. William.
Kessler carries oxygen with him, along with five-hour energy bottles for the caffeine. He says the oxygen can reduce an attack that would normally last up to three hours to about 15 minutes.
"When you are going through that kind of pain, believe me that is a lifesaver," he said.
He wishes more doctors would prescribe oxygen as a treatment and Medicare and Medicaid would cover it. Imitrex injections can also help. Surgery is sometimes recommended when patients can't find relief from other treatments.
Cluster headaches are more common in the spring and fall.