Time change can trigger headaches

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Daylight savings time ends this weekend.  We all welcome the extra hour of sleep, but for some people the time change causes real headaches.

Dr. Stewart Tepper treats headache pain at Cleveland Clinic. He says the end of daylight savings time is typically a trigger for cluster headaches.

"These attacks, which occur every day, occur for 6-8 weeks and then go away in a cluster cycle," explained Tepper. "They cluster, that's why it's called cluster and it looks like you can actually trigger a cycle by switching the time with daylight savings time."

Tepper says the cluster of headaches typically starts a couple of days after the time change.  The attacks can last anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months and can be debilitating.

This phenomenon is seen much more in men than women and experts, like Tepper, think it's caused by circadian rhythms in the brain.      

"The portion of the brain that is also the generator for cluster is also the portion of the brain that manages rhythms through the day and through the year- the circadian rhythms and the circannual rhythms in the hypothalamus," said Tepper.

There are a variety of medications that work for cluster headaches and some headache specialists will even use melatonin to try to knock them down, or even prevent their onset.

Oxygen also helps a lot; so many times cluster headache patients are given an oxygen tank and a mask to relieve their pain.       

Tepper says if you always seem to get headaches this time of year, pay attention to your symptoms, and talk to your doctor.

"If you're a guy who gets, once a year, a couple of months worth of severe headaches at the same time of day with runny nose, stuffy nose, tearing eye, red eye, on one side only- I would get to a headache specialist," advised Tepper.

It's not just daylight savings that can trigger these attacks. Tepper says even changing time zones can trigger cluster headaches.

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