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What Does a COVID-19 Headache Feel Like? Symptoms, Treatment

Medically Reviewed on 2/28/2022

COVID-19 headache may feel like a pulsing, pressing, or stabbing pain.

Studies report that headache can be a prominent and early symptom of COVID-19.

A survey study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain (Oct. 2020) reported that a COVID-19 headache may feel like pulsing, pressing, or stabbing pain, which is moderate to severe in nature.

Additional features of a COVID-19 headache include:

  • Occurrence on both sides of the head, most commonly in the frontal region (forehead or front part of the head)
  • Likely to persist for more than 72 hours
  • Resistance to regular painkillers

A COVID-19 headache may be associated with the presence of other symptoms such as sore throat, loss of smell, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and weight loss.

Headache in COVID-19 may manifest migraine-like sensory disturbances such as aversion to light, sound, and smell.

Some people will experience persistent symptoms even after a couple of weeks of commencement of COVID-19 symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refer to these cases as post-COVID-19 conditions when the symptom continues for at least four weeks.

Some people can experience headaches that do not go away even after other symptoms improve. Other people will experience headaches with other symptoms for longer than four weeks.

In which part of the head does a COVID-19 headache occur?

  • A COVID-19 headache tends to affect both sides of the head, the most common area being the frontal region that makes up for 54 percent of all COVID-19-related headaches.
  • Additionally, it can affect the back of the head, and 15.6 percent of all COVID-19-related headaches are found in this region.
  • Headache is far less common in the sides and top of the head.

Headaches in COVID-19 may be a direct consequence of the disease affecting the brain. However, they may just be a symptom of dehydration or hunger due to not consuming enough fluids or food.

How to treat a COVID-19 headache

COVID-19 headaches may range from mild, moderate, to severe in intensity. Some headaches are self-limiting, but others may require treatment.

Basics of managing a COVID-19 headache at home include:

  • Self-isolation and observation of COVID-19-appropriate behavior
  • Resting in a dark room
  • Drinking plenty of fluids daily
  • Using hot or cold compresses
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Headache is one of the lesser common symptoms manifested in COVID-19.

The more common and classical symptoms according to the World Health Organization (WHO) include:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of taste and smell

Some of the less common symptoms in COVID-19 according to the WHO include:

  • Headache
  • Ache and pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash on the skin or discoloration of the fingers or toes
  • Red or irritated eyes

When to contact a doctor for COVID-19 symptoms

Mild or moderate COVID-19 cases generally do not require hospital care. Most people recover with home treatment. Resting in self-isolation, drinking plenty of fluid, and following your doctor’s advice should suffice to relieve the symptoms within two weeks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms that require immediate medical attention include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Mental confusion
  • Persistent chest pain
  • Changes in skin color
  • Inability to stay awake

People with COVID-19 along with comorbidities that weaken their immune system such as cancer or chronic illness should consider visiting their doctor. It’s prudent to visit the doctor at the earliest if the symptoms worsen or persist beyond two weeks.

Medically Reviewed on 2/28/2022

References

Image Source: iStock Images

Uygun Ö, Ertas M, Ekizoglu E, Bolay H, Özge A, Kocasoy Orhan E, Çagatay AA, Baykan B. Headache characteristics in COVID-19 pandemic-a survey study. J Headache Pain. 2020 Oct 13;21(1):121.

ZOE COVID Study. https://covid.joinzoe.com/

Karadas, Ö., Öztürk, B., Sonkaya, A.R. et al. Latent class cluster analysis identified hidden headache phenotypes in COVID-19: impact of pulmonary infiltration and IL-6. Neurol Sci 42, 1665–1673 (2021).

Uygun, Ö., Ertas, M., Ekizoglu, E. et al. Headache characteristics in COVID-19 pandemic-a survey study. J Headache Pain 21, 121 (2020).

What to Do If You Are Sick. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html

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