Here’s what a headache from COVID-19 looks like
Cough, fever and shortness of breath were some of the most common signs (except a positive test) that you were infected with COVID-19. But latest variants they brought to the table another growing symptom: headache.
“Earlier during the pandemic, we often saw headaches in patients who lost their sense of smell and taste, but with Omicronnow we see headaches even without sensory loss, and they often occur during and after the period of infection.” says Thomas Gut, DO, director Post-COVID Recovery Center at Staten Island University Hospitalpart of Northwell Health in New York.
And research is beginning to emerge to support those anecdotal clinical findings. Headache, fatigue and cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, were the most commonly reported symptoms of Omicron, according to a recent study in the journal. BMJ, while the other is inside Journal of Headache and Pain found that headache is one of the most common and persistent symptoms of “long Covid”..
Medical experts are also finding that headaches appear as a symptom of Covid-19 both in people who are predisposed (they also suffered from headaches before the infection) and in those who have never had a headache before. “A lot of patients say they get a headache for the first time during Covid, which is unfortunate.” says Raffia Shafqat, MD., a neurologist at OhioHealth.
Here’s what you need to know about Covid-19 headaches, plus how to find relief.
What does a headache from COVID-19 look like?
If you’ve ever had a headache or deal with it frequently, this might sound familiar. But since there are several types of headaches — migraine, tension and cluster are the biggest — there’s a chance you haven’t experienced this exact type of headache before. “Most people report that it’s a tension-type headache, with a band-like phenomenon, but it can also be a migraine-type headache that comes with nausea or sensitivity to light and sound.” explains Rachel Colman, MD, board certified neurologist and headache specialist at Hartford Healthcare Ayer Neuroscience Institute in Connecticut.
dr. Shafqat says a COVID-19 headache can also feel like or be accompanied by:
Throbbing or throbbing pain
Sharp, stabbing pain in the temples or back of the head
Dizziness, vertigo or vertigo
Sensory dysfunction such as numbness or tingling, difficulty thinking or ringing in the ears
What causes a COVID-19 headache?
There could be several things at play. For one, the whole-body inflammation you experience while infected with the virus could cause headaches, just as the blood vessels in your brain could become inflamed, says Dr. Colman. Then there’s the potential neurological part, since we know that COVID-19 can attack our neurological system, plus headaches in general are a neurological condition. “The theory is that after the virus passes through the nose to the olfactory bulb (which affects our senses), it can attack the nerves that contribute to headaches and affect the blood vessels in the brain,” says Dr. Colman. “So direct invasion is one theory as to why people have headaches associated with COVID.”
Other things that happen during the infection, such as lack of hydration, not eating enough, or not sleeping enough, can also contribute to or worsen the headache.
How long does a headache from COVID-19 last?
It depends. Some people may have a headache until the test is negative, while others may only have a headache for a few days during the active period of infection. How long headaches last during “long COVID” is even murkier, with symptoms appearing over days, weeks or months. “It’s a mixed bag. “Some patients who have had migraines and tension-type headaches in the past say they become more frequent right after COVID, and some people who have never had them routinely develop tension-type headache symptoms that persist,” says Dr. Gut. “Usually we see headache symptoms go away after a few months.”
What’s the best way to get rid of a headache from COVID-19?
Spoiler alert: There is no magic solution. “It’s pretty much the same things you would do for a headache in another scenario; unfortunately, there’s nothing special you can do to make yourself feel better,” says Dr. Colman. “Lifestyle factors are hugely important, and if you want a trick, I’d say chicken soup is always a good idea – it’s hydrating, has nutrients and electrolytes, and is comforting.”
Focus on these lifestyle habits to help with COVID-19 and “long-term COVID headaches”:
Take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to relieve pain during the acute infection period. “At the beginning of COVID, they said don’t take certain pain medications, but that’s old news, so take whatever helps your headache and/or other symptoms,” says Dr. Shafqat.
Stay hydrated. When you don’t drink enough fluids, the tissues and brain contract, which puts pressure on the nerves, which can cause headaches.
Don’t skip meals. Even if you don’t feel like eating, it’s important to do so to prevent blood sugar swings that can lead to headaches. Try it foods that are easily consumed into which you can pack nutrition, such as smoothies, soups or stews, oatmeal, eggs and toast.
Focus on the dream. Once you’ve recovered from COVID, try to get back to your normal sleep-wake schedule. “I know it can be hard to fall asleep when you have a headache, but try to get seven to eight hours,” says Dr. Shafqat. This can too they help fight fatigueanother common “long covid” symptom.
Try to tame stress, which can be a trigger for headaches.
When you feel better, do light physical activity like walking. “It can be hard to think about going back to the type of exercise you’ve been doing, but just start slowly and build up,” says Dr. Colman.
If you know that something about our environment triggers your headache or makes it worse — such as certain lights, sounds, or smells — “getting out of that environment is a good first step to help stop that headache,” says Dr. Gut.
Stay up-to-date on vaccinations against COVID-19. “This is still one of the best things you can do to prevent “long-term COVID” symptoms,” says Dr. Gut. “The bivalent vaccine he was good at this.”
When to see a doctor for a headache from COVID-19:
If you have the “worst headache of your life,” seek medical attention immediately because it could potentially signal something life-threatening like a brain hemorrhage, says Dr. Gut. And always go to the emergency room if you experience a headache accompanied by a stiff neck, decreased level of consciousness, seizures, or severe sensitivity to light, says Dr. Colman, as these could be signs of meningitis or encephalitis associated with COVID (inflammation of the lining of the brain caused by infection).
In general, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor any time headaches interfere with your daily life or become frequent enough that you regularly take OTC pain relievers—they can help you discover medications that can help you get relief, or pinpoint underlying problems that might could contribute.
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