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Smoking and Headaches: Why Smoking Triggers Cluster Headaches

Smoking May Cause Cluster Headaches

It is a proven fact that many people who get cluster headaches are smokers. Research shows that over 80 percent of cluster headache sufferers have been prolonged tobacco smokers before the headaches started occurring.

Here is some information about why smoking is a known trigger of cluster headaches and how quitting or limiting exposure to secondhand smoke could help prevent them.

Secondhand Smoke and Cluster Headaches

Some people who don’t smoke themselves but are frequently surrounded by smokers are concerned about whether the presence of smoke increases their risk of cluster headaches.

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One study published in the journal, Headache, found that over 60 percent of non-smokers who experienced cluster headaches had parents who smoked at home when they were children. These results suggest that not only can smoking cause cluster headaches to develop, but prolonged exposure to someone else’s cigarette smoke can as well over time.

Even more alarming, the responders in this survey who had smoker parents reported that their cluster headaches began at or before the age of 20. This is very early for cluster headaches to begin, as the average range is between 20 and 50 years of age.

Does Quitting Smoking Cause Headaches?

But while quitting smoking has tremendous benefits on one’s overall health, it has not proven to have a substantial effect on cluster headaches. A pilot study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, found that a majority of participants did not notice a change in their headaches after quitting smoking. Cluster headache patients’ conditions have seldom improved when the only change made is smoking cessation.

However, this research should not discourage individuals with cluster headaches to quit smoking. Doctors recommend stopping smoking at the first sign of a cluster headache attack and avoiding smoking during a cluster headache cycle.

Also, some scientific evidence has shown that cigarette smoke can make various types of headaches worse. Smoking can raise carbon monoxide levels in the brain and blood, which may cause headaches to form or worsen. When the body receives less oxygen during smoking sessions, tissues don’t get the oxygen they need to function properly. And since nicotine has a toxic effect on the brain, it may interfere with medications that one takes to manage headaches.

Other Cluster Headache Triggers

Of course, smoking is not the only trigger for cluster headaches, and many other factors can cause their onset. These include alcohol, bright light, high altitudes, nitrate-rich foods, coffee, nitroglycerin, and genetics. Weather changes and smells may also bring on cluster headaches in some individuals.

Finding Relief for Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are very painful, but treatment is available to help patients find relief. Powerful rescue medications like Vanquish are specially formulated for people who experiences frequent and recurring headaches.

Oxygen therapy, sumatriptan injections, and blood pressure medications are also sometimes recommended to people who have acute attacks and for long-term prevention of cluster headaches. Sometimes behavioral treatments, such as stress management and relaxation therapy, are also recommended to complement drug therapy.

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