Here’s what a headache caused by COVID-19 looks like
Here’s what a headache caused by COVID-19 looks like
Cough, fever and difficulty breathing were some of the most common signs (except a positive test) who you were infected with COVID-19. But latest variants they brought another growing symptom to the table: 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 loss of sensation, and they often occur during and after the period of infection,” says Thomas Gut, DO, principal Post-Covid Recovery Center at Staten Island University Hospitalpart of Northwell Health in New York.
Research is beginning to emerge to support these 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 permanent “long Covid” symptoms.
Medical experts are also finding that headaches appear as a symptom of Covid-19 both in people who are predisposed (i.e. who have previously suffered from headaches before infection) and in those who have never had a headache before. “Many patients say they have a headache for the first time during Covid, which is unfortunate,” says Raffia Shafqat, MD., an OhioHealth neurologist.
Here’s what you need to know about headaches caused by Covid-19 and how to find relief.
What does a headache caused by COVID-19 look like?
If you’ve ever had a headache or dealt with it frequently, this might sound familiar. But since there are several types of headaches — migraine, tension and cluster are the main problems — there is a chance that you may not have experienced the 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. a board-certified neurologist and headache specialist at the Hartford Healthcare Ayer Neuroscience Institute in Connecticut.
dr. Shafqat says a headache caused by the COVID-19 virus can also feel like or be accompanied by:
Throbbing or throbbing pain
Sharp, stabbing pain in the temples or back of the head
Dizziness, lightheadedness, or dizziness
Sensory dysfunction such as numbness or tingling, difficulty thinking, or ringing in the ears
What causes a headache caused by COVID-19?
There could be several things at play. For one thing, the whole-body inflammation you experience while infected with the virus could cause a headache, just as the blood vessels in your brain could become inflamed, says Dr. Colman. There is also a potential neurological part, since we know that COVID-19 can attack our neurological system, and headache is generally a neurological condition. “The theory is that once the virus travels through the nose to the olfactory bulb (which affects our senses), it can attack the nerves that contribute to the pain in the head 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 an infection, such as not staying hydrated, not eating enough, or not getting enough sleep, can also contribute to or worsen the headache.
How long does a headache caused by COVID-19 last?
It depends. Some people may have a headache until they test negative, while others may only have a headache for a few days during the period of active infection. How long headaches last during “long COVID” is even more unclear, with symptoms appearing over days, weeks or months. “It’s a mixed bag. “Some patients who already had migraines and tension headaches say they became more frequent immediately after COVID, and some people who never had them routinely develop long-lasting tension headache symptoms,” says Dr. Gut. “Typically, we see headache symptoms go away after a few months.”
What’s the best way to get rid of a headache caused by 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 specific you can do to make yourself feel better,” says Dr. Colman. “Lifestyle factors are hugely important, and if you want one 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 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 not to take certain pain medications, but that’s old news, so take what works for your headache and/or other symptoms,” says Dr. Shafqat.
Stay hydrated. When you don’t drink enough fluids, the tissues and your brain shrink, which puts pressure on the nerves that can cause headaches.
Do not 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 out foods that are easily consumed in which you can pack nutritious ingredients, such as smoothies, soups or stews, oatmeal, eggs and toast.
Focus on sleeping. After you recover from COVID, try to get back to your normal sleep-wake schedule. “I know it can be difficult to sleep when you have a headache, but try to get seven to eight hours of sleep,” says Dr. Shafqat. This can too help fight fatigueanother common symptom of “long Covid”.
Try to tame stress, which can be a headache trigger.
When you feel better, engage in light physical activity such as walking. “It can be hard to think about going back to the type of exercise you’ve been doing, but just start slowly and work your way back,” says Dr. Colman.
If you know that something about our environment triggers your headache or makes it worse — like certain lights, sounds, or smells — “getting out of that environment is a good first step to stopping 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 the symptoms of ‘long COVID,'” says Dr. Gut. bivalent vaccine was good at this.”
When to see a doctor for a headache caused by COVID-19:
If you have the “worst headache of your life,” seek medical attention right away 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, a decreased level of consciousness, a seizure, or severe sensitivity to light, says Dr. Colman, because these could be signs of meningitis or encephalitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain, caused by an infection) associated with COVID.
In general, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor any time a headache interferes with your daily life or becomes frequent enough that you regularly take OTC pain relievers — they can help you find medications that can help you get relief, or pinpoint the underlying issues that could contribute.
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