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A headache is a common symptom of COVID-19, especially when the disease is caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Headaches can occur as a primary symptom of COVID-19 or as a secondary symptom due to factors such as dehydration, sleep deprivation, or lying in bed for long periods of time.

However, there are many possible causes of a headache, including stress and caffeine withdrawal. People can often treat a headache at home using medical treatments, home remedies, or both. Sometimes a headache will be a medical emergency and a person will need medical attention.

In this article, we provide an overview of COVID-19 and headaches, including the association between headaches and long COVID. We also discuss the outlook for people with headaches related to COVID-19, list other possible causes of headaches, and offer advice on when to seek medical attention.

Visit our COVID-19 hub to learn more about this disease.

A headache is a common symptom of COVID-19. According to a 2021 study, estimates of the number of people with COVID-19 who experience headaches as a symptom of the disease range widely from 10% to 70%. Most headaches are tension headaches, although about 25% of people experience migraine-like symptoms.

The likelihood of experiencing a headache as a symptom of COVID-19 may also partly depend on the variant of the coronavirus that is causing it. Preliminary research suggests that a headache is one of the most common symptoms in people with the Omicron variant of the virus.

A 2021 review notes that having a headache during coronavirus infection is associated with a reduced risk of dying from COVID-19. However, the cause of this correlation remains unclear.

COVID-19 is a relatively new disease and doctors have yet to develop a specific treatment for the headaches it can cause. Instead, people have to rely on standard headache remedies. The exact treatment will depend on the type of headache they are experiencing.

Tension headaches

Most headaches related to COVID-19 are tension-type headaches. These headaches occur when muscle pain in the neck or shoulders radiates to the head. Painkillers can help relieve muscle aches and headaches.

Certain medications that can relieve symptoms to understand:

Migraines

Some people develop migraines during or after a coronavirus infection. Migraine is a neurological condition that typically causes a moderate to severe headache on one side of the head.

Other possible migraine symptoms include:

  • sensitivity to light, sound, or smell
  • changes in vision or other bodily sensations
  • nausea or vomiting

As with tension headaches, migraines may respond to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen, ibuprofen, and aspirin.

If the above drugs do not work, a doctor may prescribe one or more of the following drugs:

Preventive treatments can help reduce the frequency of migraines. Some options include:

One of the most effective natural treatments for headaches related to COVID-19 is identifying and avoiding potential triggers. Some common headache triggers during a coronavirus infection include:

  • lying in bed, which leads to muscle pain and tension in the upper body
  • dehydration resulting from fever or being too tired to get food or water
  • sleep deprivation
  • stress

Here are some tips to help prevent headache triggers:

  • stretching or gently massaging the muscles
  • to drink a lot of water
  • take acetaminophen to help control fever
  • practicing meditation or mindfulness to help reduce stress levels and promote better sleep

Some natural headache remedies include:

  • to exercisewhich can help you with the following:
    • reduce muscle pain and tension
    • relieve stress
    • promote sleep
  • applying heat to tight muscles, which can help relieve tension headaches
  • massage tight muscles in the shoulders, neck, jaw and back of the head
  • take a hot shower or bath
  • taking magnesium supplements, which can relieve acute headaches and reduce the risk of chronic headaches
  • avoiding excessive caffeine consumption

A headache is a common symptom from the long COVID. Researchers do not yet understand why this is the case.

There is no specific treatment for long COVID or for the headaches it can cause. The same treatments people use for other headaches can help with long-lasting COVID-related headaches. However, they may not prevent headaches from coming back.

People with long-term COVID and headaches should discuss longer-term treatment options with a doctor, as well as the possibility of participating in clinical trials.

Headaches are very common and do not necessarily indicate that a person has COVID-19. Even when someone with COVID-19 develops a headache, the disease may not be the cause.

In some cases, the headache may be a secondary symptom because, for example, lying in bed has triggered a tension headache. In other cases, the headache may be completely unrelated to the coronavirus infection.

Although they are painful, most headaches are harmless and go away on their own. Examples to understand:

  • sinus headache
  • migraine
  • tension headaches
  • cluster headaches
  • headaches that are the result of:
    • stress and anxiety
    • dehydration
    • drinking too much caffeine or withdrawing from caffeine

However, some headaches can signal a medical emergency. A headache with the following characteristics may signal a serious underlying medical condition, such as meningitis or stroke:

  • a very severe headache that comes on suddenly and is unlike any previous headache
  • a headache that occurs along with other symptoms, such as:

Most headaches go away on their own or after proper home treatment. People who have headaches related to COVID-19 may find that the headaches become less severe or less frequent once their COVID-19 symptoms go away.

However, long COVID is common, especially among older COVID-19 survivors.

In a 2021 study, 57% of 273,618 COVID-19 survivors experienced at least one long COVID symptom up to 6 months after initial infection. Of these people, 8.67% had headaches 1-180 days post-COVID-19 and 4.63% had headaches 90-180 days post-COVID-19.

The above data suggests that although the frequency of headaches related to COVID-19 generally decreases over time, some people may continue to experience headaches even 6 months after infection.

Most headaches related to COVID-19 will go away over time. However, someone who has COVID-19 or has been infected with the coronavirus in the past should talk to a doctor if they experience any of the following:

  • symptoms of long COVID
  • worsening headache
  • a headache that lasts for several days and does not respond to home treatment
  • severe, frequent, or persistent migraine attacks

A headache can sometimes signal a medical emergency. A person should go to the emergency room or call 911 if they have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • very intense headaches, different from their usual headaches
  • a thunderclap headache, which is an intense headache that comes on suddenly within 60 seconds
  • a severe headache that follows a banging sensation in the head
  • an intense headache following a blow to the head, a fall or an accident
  • accompanying symptoms, such as:
    • confusion
    • difficulty understanding the language
    • slurred speech
    • difficulty with balance or coordination
    • weakness on one side of the face or body
    • loss of consciousness
    • seizures

A headache is a common symptom of COVID-19. It can occur as a primary or secondary symptom of the disease. Headaches can also present as a symptom of long COVID.

Treatment for headaches related to COVID-19 is the same as for most non-illness related headaches. Treatment options include over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers, as well as natural treatments, such as gentle exercise, massage, and maintaining adequate hydration.

A person should speak to a doctor if they experience persistent or worsening headaches during or after a coronavirus infection.

Most headaches are harmless and go away on their own or after proper treatment. However, some headaches can signal a serious and life-threatening medical condition. Anyone who experiences a sudden or severe headache that occurs alongside other concerning symptoms should seek emergency medical attention.

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