COVID-19 And Migraine: Symptoms And Causes
Headache has emerged as a prevalent symptom of SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19), particularly with the presence of the alpha, delta, and omicron variants. However, if you experience a persistent headache after COVID-19, it could indicate that you are experiencing a post-COVID headache.
While the pandemic might feel like it has been ongoing indefinitely, from a medical standpoint, it is premature to make definitive predictions about the characteristics and treatment of COVID-19-related headaches. Headache is a common occurrence during the acute phase of the illness, which is unsurprising as headaches often accompany various viral infections.
What Are Post-COVID Headaches?
Post-COVID headache refers to a persistent headache that arises following recovery from COVID-19. These symptoms can endure for weeks or even months after testing negative for the virus. Post-COVID headaches can aggravate the frequency and severity of migraine symptoms for migraine patients.
Post COVID-19 Headache Symptoms
According to Dr. Chia-Chun Chiang, Senior Associate Consultant and Assistant Professor of Neurology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, post COVID-19 headaches are frequently described as migraine-like headaches. Some common post-COVID headache symptoms include:
- a headache that resembles migraine attack
- throbbing pain localized on one side of the head
- sensitivity to light, noise, touch, or smell
The location of a COVID headache is usually on one side of the head while other headaches affect both sides of the head.
What Does A Post-COVID Headache Feel Like?
Experts say that the symptoms differ for everyone. Some patients describe a headache after COVID as a mild, dull headache that eventually goes away after a COVID infection. Others suffer from a debilitating and long COVID-19 headache, often characterized as the worst they have ever experienced, lasting for an extended period.
Are Headaches A Sign Of COVID-19?
Headaches are a common sign of COVID-19. Around 47% of patients develop a headache after a COVID infection.
How Long Does A Covid-19 Headache Last?
For most individuals, a COVID-19 headache lasts for two months, while fewer people continue to experience headache symptoms beyond three months. However, there are cases where a COVID-19 headache can last even longer, with approximately 8% of patients still experiencing headache symptoms six months after recovering from COVID-19. This can be a highly distressing symptom for affected individuals.
Symptoms Of Severe Headache During COVID-19
Migraine-like head pain is the most commonly reported headache during an active COVID infection. Dr. Chiang notes that people often describe a more severe headache accompanied by sensitivity to light or noise when they have an active COVID infection, along with fever and respiratory symptoms. After recovery from COVID-19, some individuals may experience a persistent post headache, occurring weeks or even months later, which can be debilitating. While the headache after COVID-19 is bad, the symptoms are often worse for migraine sufferers.
Migraine And COVID-19
Research indicates that individuals with a history of migraine are more susceptible to developing post-COVID headache compared to those without a migraine history. Furthermore, COVID-19 can trigger an increase in migraine attacks among patients with a preexisting migraine condition. After a COVID infection, some individuals may experience a prolonged and severe headache lasting one to two months, followed by a high frequency of migraine, often around 10 to 15 attacks per month. This phenomenon is known as migraine chronification where COVID-19 actually worsens your migraine symptoms.
While COVID-19 can’t “cause” migraine per se, it can aggravate your migraine symptoms. The post COVID-19 migraine symptoms you are experiencing is largely the lengthening and worsening of the migraine symptoms.
Treatment And Relief for Post-COVID Headache
Currently, it is too early to make accurate predictions about the duration, severity, accompanying symptoms, and recommended treatments for COVID-19-associated headaches. Many individuals with a history of migraine report having headaches resembling migraines but their usual medications are not working for them. Others describe their COVID-related headaches feel more severe and longer than the average tension headache.
While over-the-counter (OTC) migraine cocktails are commonly used to quickly alleviate headaches, frequent use of such medications can lead to medication overuse headaches. It is advisable to consult a doctor and provide a comprehensive account of all symptoms to find a suitable long-term solution, as treatment for post-COVID headache depends on the individual’s unique circumstances.
Dr. Chiang suggests considering other symptoms, such as difficulty falling asleep or memory problems, when choosing medications for post-COVID headache. In general, migraine therapies are recommended when patients describe migraine-like headaches after a COVID infection.
Home Remedies For COVID-19 Headache
Here are some helpful home remedies for COVID-19 headaches you can try:
- Rest and Relaxation: Getting adequate rest and practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga, can help reduce headache symptoms.
- Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to maintain hydration, as dehydration can contribute to headaches. Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol, as they can dehydrate the body and cause dehydration headaches.
- Apply a Cold or Warm Compress: Applying a cold or warm compress to the forehead or the back of the neck may help alleviate headache pain. Experiment with both options to see which provides better relief.
- Gentle Massage: Massage the temples, scalp, neck, and shoulders with gentle pressure to relieve tension and promote relaxation.
- Essential Oils: Some individuals find relief by using essential oils such as lavender, peppermint, or eucalyptus. Dilute a few drops of essential oil in a carrier oil (such as coconut oil) and apply it to the temples or inhale the aroma.
- Maintain a Dark and Quiet Environment: Minimize exposure to bright lights and loud noises if you’re sensitive to noise or experience migraine photophobia, as they can exacerbate headache symptoms. Create a calm, dimly lit space to rest in.
- Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers: Non-prescription pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may help alleviate mild to moderate headache pain. Follow the recommended dosage instructions and consult a healthcare professional if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.
Link Between Sinus Headache And COVID-19 Headache
Sinus headaches and COVID-related headaches share similar symptoms and underlying causes. Some notable differences between sinus headache and COVID-19 headaches are listed here:
- Sinus headaches symptoms include pain and pressure in the forehead, cheeks, and around the eyes, typically caused by inflammation or congestion in the sinus cavities.
- COVID headaches symptoms, on the other hand, can present as migraine-like headaches with throbbing pain, often localized to one side of the head.
However, it is important to note that sinus headaches are usually accompanied by other sinus-related symptoms such as nasal congestion, facial tenderness, and post-nasal drip, while COVID-related headaches can occur independently or alongside other COVID symptoms such as fever, respiratory issues, or loss of smell and taste.
Additionally, both sinus headaches and COVID-related headaches can be triggered by inflammation and irritation in the nasal passages and sinuses, which can occur during a COVID infection. It is essential to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.