Cluster headache in children is not common, but sadly some children do experience it. It’s extremely rare in children under 10, and also in girls under 18. Cluster is much more common in males than in females, so most of the cluster headaches in children hit males over 10.
It’s been estimated that about 1 child in 1,000 has cluster between the ages of 10 and 18.
Cluster headaches get their name from their timing. They tend to be short-lived headaches (usually 15 minutes to 3 hours), one sided, but extremely intense. But they come in cluster periods. That is, you get a whole bunch of them in a cycle lasting usually from 1 to 12 weeks, but then there will be nothing for months or years, until the next cluster period begins.
Unlike migraine attacks, cluster headaches make the child restless. Lying down in a dark room is not what the patient wants to do – more often they will pace.
Every child is different, but common symptoms of cluster headache in children include:
- Severe, one-sided pain, usually around one eye
- The eye may be red, or the eyelid may droop or swell. The one pupil may also be smaller than the other
- Forehead swelling
- Congestion, runny nose
Treatment for children is similar to that of adults. Oxygen during an attack may be helpful. Triptan drugs may also be used – some have been studied more than others for children, so ask your doctor what she would recommend. DHE-45 is another drug that has been used successfully for cluster. Read more about cluster headache treatment.
Though cluster headache in children is often treated in a similar way to cluster headache in adults, there are some treatments that have been more successful than others, and there are special concerns with some medications when it comes to children. It’s wise to find a specialist who has treated cluster headache in children before. It might be a challenge, since the condition is rare, but finding an experienced specialist can make a big difference in these incredibly painful episodes.