A histamine headache is commonly known as a cluster headache and the pain accompanying these types of migraines are often worse than traditional migraines. Like most migraines, the cause of these types of headaches aren’t well understood. Histamine headaches often occur as a one sided head migraine pain that may involve tearing of the eyes, a droopy eyelid, and/or a stuffy nose. As the name suggests, histamine headaches are groups of headaches usually over a period of several weeks – there’s little or no evidence that they have anything to do with histamines or allergic reactions.
An attack by a histamine headache can occur regularly for 1 week to 1 year and are separated by pain-free periods that can last a period of time – a few weeks, days, or months. There are two different types, the first is known as an episodic headache, in which at least 2 cluster periods lasting 7 days to 1 year are separated by a cluster-free interval of 1 month or longer. The second type is known as a chronic headache, in which the clusters occur more than once a year without a break or the cluster-free interval is shorter than one month (one of our founders has a histamine headache every few weeks).
Histamine Headache Theories
Theories for these headaches seem to point to the body’s sudden release of a key brain chemical, histamine, which is a chemical in the body released during an allergic response, or the chemical, serotonin, another key brain chemical made by your nerve cells. Another prevalent theory is a problem in the small area at the base of the brain, called the hypothalamus. Men are affected more often than women by histamine headaches. The headaches can occur at any age, but are most common in your 20s through middle age, and tend to run in families – so they may be genetically linked.
A histamine headache begins as a severe, sudden headache, which can strike 2 to 3 hours after you fall asleep. But it can also occur when you are awake. When you begin your cluster ‘period’ of headaches, it is found that the pain generally begins at the same time of day and can last from 15 minutes or a couple of months. A histamine headache is described as intense pain around one eye or one side of your head. The pain can occur on the opposite side when a new series begins. The pain is usually positioned behind the eye or in the eye region and may radiate to the forehead, temple, nose, cheek or upper gum on the affected side. The affected eyelid may become swollen or droop and the pupil may contract, while the nostril on the affected side of the head is often congested and/or nasal discharge and tearing of the eye can occur on the same side as the pain. It can be accompanied with excessive sweating and a flushed face, again on the affected side.
Like all severe headaches (migraines and cluster headaches), the best way to treat histamine headaches is to find and identify your migraine causes, look for the migraine symptoms that are occurring, and then look for viable migraine treatments. One straightforward way to do this is to pinpoint the causes using a headache diary, which will help identify triggers and treatments that work for you. When you get a headache, write down the following information:
- The day and time the pain began.
- How many hours you slept over the last 24 hours (or 48-75 hours if possible).
- What you were doing and where you were right before the pain began.
- How long the headache lasted and what you think made it stop.
The headaches may go away on their own or you may need treatment to prevent or control the pain. Review your diary to identify triggers or a pattern to your headaches, this can help you and your doctor create a treatment plan, by identifying your triggers and avoiding them.
One such headache diary, or journal, can be seen to the right – and is a great place to get started by tracking down your histamine headache concerns.