What Kind of Headache Comes With COVID?

Medically Reviewed on 2/22/2022
waking up with headaches
COVID-19 headache is described as a really tight, squeezing sensation that gets worse with coughing and physical activity.

The terms COVID-19 headache, coronavirus headache, COVID headache, and COVID-19 headache all refer to the same headache that has become a common symptom due to the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection. This has occurred in patients with COVID-19, including Delta, Omicron, and all other variants.

COVID-19 headache is described as a really tight, squeezing sensation that gets worse with coughing and physical activity.

According to the COVID Symptom Study:

  • Headache pain ranges from mild to severe.
  • It makes a pulsing, pressing, throbbing, or stabbing sensation throughout the head.
  • It involves both sides of the head.
  • It may be resistant to over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Physical activity including bending may aggravate the condition.
  • Eyestrain and nausea are associated symptoms of a headache.

The most severe and dangerous headache in COVID-19 cases appears to be in people who are extremely ill with the infection.

The COVID Symptom Study researchers are tracking symptoms associated with new COVID-19 cases and are categorizing the new cases into three categories:

  1. The unvaccinated
  2. The fully vaccinated
  3. The partially vaccinated

Researchers discovered that headache is now the most frequently reported symptom by all three groups. Although headaches are a less well-known symptom of COVID-19, they are one of the disease's earliest signs and are more common than classic symptoms of cough, fever, and loss of smell (anosmia).

A high proportion of patients have reported headaches due to the COVID-19 vaccine as well.

Why would respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 cause a headache?

Many viruses, from the common cold to COVID-19, cause the body to respond in ways that attempt to destroy the infection.

  • Immune cells release proteins known as cytokines that cause inflammation, fever, and fatigue. A headache may accompany these reactions.

A headache can be caused by many factors related to coronavirus such as:

  • Physical discomfort
  • Constant coughing
  • Stuffy sinuses
  • Frequent nose blowing
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of sleep
  • Not eating properly
  • Failing to stay hydrated

How long does a headache last with COVID-19?

The duration of COVID-19 headache symptoms varies depending on the patient's age, immune status, and overall health condition.

  • Patients who have a minor illness should feel better in a few days to a few weeks.
  • Patients who have severe illnesses may have mild to moderate headaches for up to 90 days.
  • Doctors confirm that even patients who test negative for COVID-19 may continue to experience headaches for longer durations.
  • An observational study reported that headaches can occur during presymptomatic and/or symptomatic stages of COVID-19 progression and can sometimes mimic tension or migraine headaches.
  • According to studies, one of the symptoms that may occur after the COVID-19 vaccination is headache, which may last less than a week.

It's unclear why some COVID-19 patients get headaches, whereas others don't. According to data, one of the most commonly reported symptoms among people younger than 40 years is a headache.

A study investigated the relationship between headache and COVID-19. It was discovered that although headache was a common symptom of COVID-19, it was also a predictor of a shorter COVID-19 clinical course.

The average duration of headache in COVID-19 patients is approximately 15 days. However, only a few patients complained of headaches after six weeks.

How can I get relief from COVID-19 headache?

Patients must take proper COVID-19 treatment as directed by their doctor.

For many patients, the treatment of COVID-19 headache and the infection itself focuses on symptomatic measures such as:

In patients with COVID-19, symptomatic treatment is usually the first line of defense. Symptomatic treatment entails treating the symptoms of a virus rather than the virus itself, giving the body time to develop immunity to viral infections.

Although there were early reports that certain NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, were not recommended for COVID-19, this has not been supported by data.

Other treatments may include:

  • Intravenous medications such as steroids (typically dexamethasone) and remdesivir
  • Supplemental oxygen, especially for more serious infections
  • A study that looked at the use of melatonin to treat headaches discovered that the supplement caused too much daytime drowsiness to be effective. The study's goal is to determine whether a high or low dose of melatonin is effective in treating COVID-19 headache.

The severity of the infection, medical history, and risk factors for more severe disease, guidelines, and doctor's treatment preferences and experience may influence the treatment. 

If a patient has any symptoms or is concerned about COVID-19, they should contact their doctor right away.

Will I get headache after vaccination?

Some patients have reported side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, including headaches. 

According to preliminary data, headaches occur in the following:

  • Moderna COVID-19 vaccine injection:
    • 35.4 percent of patients receiving the first Moderna COVID-19 vaccine injection
    • 62.8 percent of patients after receiving the second injection
  • Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine:
    • 41 percent of patients reported headaches after the first injection
    • 51.7 percent of patients got a headache after the second injection

Headaches from the COVID-19 vaccine are commonly associated with other common transient side effects of some vaccinations (fever, chills, body ache, fatigue, exhaustion, and soreness at injection site), which are simply signs of the body mounting an immune response in preparation for potential COVID-19 exposure and infection.

Regardless, if a COVID-19 vaccination headache occurs, it is generally milder and lasts for less time than a COVID-19 headache caused by the direct infection.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/22/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Headache characteristics in COVID-19 pandemic-a survey study: https://thejournalofheadacheandpain.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s10194-020-01188-1

COVID-19 is a Real Headache! https://headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/head.13856

Headaches During COVID-19: My Clinical Case and Review of the Literature: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7273035/

Case Study: A Crushing Headache as an Early Sign of COVID-19: https://hartfordhealthcare.org/about-us/news-press/news-detail?articleid=27184&publicId=395

HEADACHE IN COVID-19 PANDEMIC: https://www.eanpages.org/2020/04/09/headache-in-covid-19-pandemic-2/