A man in pain holding his head
Headache
A man in pain holding his head

Can COVID cause headaches?

Many studies have shown that COVID may cause headaches. Some people even get a headache before they notice any breathing problems. It is a common symptom of COVID.

 

What causes COVID headaches?

Headaches are often a feature of other viral infections, but for most people the presence of a headache does not always mean that the virus is still present in the body.

Migraine is a very common type of headache and causes a nasty pain in the head. This can sometimes be accompanied with other symptoms such as sensitivity to light, an upset stomach, loss of appetite and you may even feel sick or vomit. Viral infections can make existing migraines worse; attacks may be more frequent or the pain may last longer than usual. People who suffer from migraines are more likely to have headaches following a viral infection. Long COVID headaches may be more frequent in those patients who have a history of headaches.

COVID can also cause a new persistent headache that has not been experienced prior to your COVID illness, but which lasts for some time afterwards, and can be felt on a daily basis.

Stress is a very common trigger for COVID headaches.

 

How long will my headache last?

Most patients with COVID report that their headache improves within 2 weeks. However, for some, it may last for a few weeks longer.

 

What can I do for my headaches?

If you have suffered from headaches before, the best option is to stick to your previous treatments.

If you have identified triggers that start the headaches, try to avoid them as this may reduce them occurring by a half. Try to avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol can make headaches worse.

Regular sleep, reducing stress and routine eating times are important for migraine management. These activities may be beneficial for people suffering COVID headaches. Relaxation techniques can be helpful when you have muscle tension in the neck and shoulders.

Taking painkillers for headaches is an option but ideally should be limited to less than three days a week. It is important not to take regular daily painkillers as they themselves can be the cause of headaches (medication overuse headache).

If painkillers cannot be avoided then paracetamol and ibuprofen are the best. If the headache is exceptionally bad, then it could be a migraine. Check with your GP or your pharmacist to find the right medicine for you.
If you have a daily headache, your GP could prescribe you a preventative medication to take for a few weeks/months.