Treatment for Acute Attacks
Breathing pure oxygen (by face mask, for 15 minutes or less) is one of the most effective and safest treatments for cluster headache attacks. It is often the first choice treatment. Inhalation of oxygen raises blood oxygen levels, therefore relaxing narrowed blood vessels.
Triptans are drugs that are usually used to treat migraine headaches. They can also help stop a cluster attack. An Injection of sumatriptan (Imitrex) is the standard triptan treatment and is FDA-approved for cluster headaches. Sumatriptan injections work within 15 minutes in about three quarters of most cluster attacks. The nasal spray form may also be effective for some patients, and generally provides relief within 30 minutes. The spray seems to work best for attacks that last at least 45 minutes, although some people find it does not work as well as the injectable form.
Zolmitriptan (Zomig) is another triptan drug used for cluster headache treatment. It is given in either oral or nasal spray form. Zolmitriptan may have fewer side effects than sumatriptan.
Side Effects. Side effects of sumatriptan may include:
- Muscle weakness
- Heaviness or pressure in the chest
- Tingling and numbness in the toes
- Rapid heart rate
Review Date: 09/29/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.