Cluster headaches are loosely defined as intense headaches that are cyclical and occur in clusters. They may be triggered by the change of seasons, stress, or alcohol use. Unlike migraines, cluster headaches tend to affect men more so than women.
The pain of a cluster headache often occurs on one side and can include debilitating eye pain. Like migraines, cluster headaches can be chronic and recurrent. A cluster period -- a time of frequent headaches -- generally lasts from six to twelve weeks. Consequently, a cluster headache patient may fall prey to recurrent episodes or interminably long periods of intense pain. Nevertheless, it can be hard to get Social Security disability for cluster headaches since a cluster period usually ends within a few months, and Social Security requires that you be disabled for at least 12 months to qualify for benefits.
If you apply for disability due to cluster headache, you may find that the claims examiner gives your disorder as much consideration as other impairments for which the cause is unclear and the diagnosis not necessarily based on objective medical evidence, such as fibromyalgia and chronic pain syndrome. (Meaning, not much.) However, this doesn't mean that a claimant with severe cluster headaches cannot win disability benefits on appeal.
Social Security will evaluate an applicant with cluster headaches the same way it evaluates someone with migraine headaches. For more information, see our article on disability benefits for migraine headaches.
Written by: Tim Moore, former disability claims examiner