Up to 75% of people have experienced a headache in the last year. While there are plenty of causes for headaches—many of them not serious—some headaches can be a sign of another medical condition.
For example, it’s common for people who are infected with COVID-19 to experience headaches as a symptom of infection.
Not all cases of COVID-19 include headache, and the illness may also include other symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, and congestion.
If you have any of these symptoms—or if you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19—it’s important to get tested.
Whether or not you have COVID-19, there are a number of effective ways to treat headache pain at home.
Always talk to your health care provider or a K doctor if your headache is severe or doesn’t respond to treatment at home.
In this article, I’ll cover whether headaches are a common symptom of COVID-19, and causes of headaches that are not associated with the disease.
I’ll discuss the types of headaches caused by COVID-19, and how to treat them.
I’ll also outline other neurological symptoms of COVID-19.
Finally, I’ll recommend when you should see a doctor, and how K Health can help.
Are Headaches a Symptom of COVID-19?
Some research suggests headache is among the most common COVID-19 symptoms.
Other common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Most commonly, symptoms appear between 2-14 days after exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
If you have any of these COVID-19 symptoms, or you’ve been exposed to the virus, reach out to your doctor or local health department and get tested.
Getting tested for COVID-19
Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19—as well as anyone who has been exposed to COVID-19—should be tested, according to the CDC.
To learn more about COVID-19 testing, contact your healthcare provider.
Many pharmacies offer COVID-19 testing, but you may need to book an appointment first.
If you test positive for COVID-19, stay isolated at home for at least 10 days to prevent spreading the infection to others.
Common Causes of Headaches That Are Not COVID-19
Headaches can be painful and even debilitating, but they’re also quite common.
If you test negative for COVID-19, your headache may stem from another cause, such as:
- Tension or stress
- Alcohol use
- Eye strain
- Poor posture
- Weather changes
- Medication overuse
- Changes in sleep
- Skipped meals
Medical conditions can also cause headaches.
When this happens, it’s called a secondary headache.
Some medical conditions that can trigger secondary headaches include:
- Acute sinusitis (sinus infection)
- Ear infection
- Influenza (flu)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Panic disorder
- Dental problems
In rare cases, more serious medical conditions, such as a brain tumor, aneurysm, or blood clot, can cause headaches.
If you’re concerned about your headaches, talk to your health care provider or a K doctor.
They can help you figure out what’s going on and if you need to be seen in person—or put your mind at ease.
Types of Headaches Caused by COVID-19
A headache caused by a viral infection, such as COVID-19, is called a secondary headache.
That means the headache occurs due to another cause (in this case, the infection).
In rare cases, people can develop meningitis, or inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, from COVID-19.
COVID-19 can also result in a post-viral syndrome known as “long Covid” or long-haul syndrome.
Weeks or months after the initial infection, some people may experience symptoms such as brain fog or headache.
That said, not everyone experiences a headache with COVID-19, and those who do have headaches with COVID-19 may not have the same type of headache.
People who do experience headaches with COVID-19 commonly report severe pressure that affects their whole head, unlike a migraine, which can cause throbbing pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.
How to Treat a COVID-19 Headache
While there’s no cure for COVID-19, there are a few ways to relieve your discomfort, including treating your headache.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), and a non-NSAID drug acetaminophen (Tylenol) can reduce headache pain, as well as relieve fever, aches, and other bothersome COVID-19 symptoms.
Staying hydrated and getting enough sleep, just as you would with any other illness, may also help you feel better.
If you have congestion due to COVID-19, you may be experiencing a sinus headache.
If that’s the case, nasal irrigation may help.
You can also take an over-the-counter decongestant, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), to relieve sinus pressure.
Always consult a health care provider for medical advice before treating your own symptoms at home—and make sure to talk to your doctor if your headache (or any other symptoms) get worse).
Other Neurological Symptoms of COVID-19
Headaches aren’t the only potential neurological symptom of COVID-19.
It’s also common for people to lose their senses of taste and smell due to the infection, which researchers think has a neurological cause.
In rare cases, people can also experience other negative neurological effects, including:
- Cerebrovascular disease
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
Always see a doctor if you’re experiencing neurological symptoms due to COVID-19.
When to See a Doctor
If you think you may have COVID-19, get tested as soon as possible, and isolate until you learn the result of your test.
Those who test positive for COVID-19 should stay home and isolate for 10 days, per CDC guidelines.
You may also want to see a doctor for help managing symptoms, including a headache caused by COVID-19.
If you develop severe symptoms, such as a high fever or difficulty breathing, call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room right away.
You should also see a healthcare provider if you experience severe or persistent headaches, whether or not they’re related to COVID-19.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can access online urgent care with K Health?
Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes.
K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and is based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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COVID‐19 and Headache Medicine: A Narrative Review of Non‐Steroidal Anti‐Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) and Corticosteroid Use. (2020).
Interim Clinical Guidance for Management of Patients with Confirmed Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). (2021).
Treatment-Refractory Headache in the Setting of COVID-19 Pneumonia: Migraine or Meningoencephalitis? Case Report. (2021).