Headaches are a common symptom of COVID-19. Studies show that COVID-19 can cause up to 15% to 40% of cases of headaches. Most patients with COVID-19 report that their headaches improve within two weeks, but they may last a few weeks longer. A Post-COVID headache is a persistent headache that develops after having COVID-19. These headaches can last for weeks or even months after testing negative for the virus.

Possible Causes

Headaches are often a feature of viral infections, but for most people, a headache doesn’t always mean that the virus is still present in the body. The following are patient groups who are more at risk for developing Post-COVID, also known as Long COVID, headaches compared to other groups:

  • People who have experienced more severe COVID-19 illness, especially those who were hospitalized or required intensive care
  • People who did not get a COVID-19 vaccine
  • People who experienced multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) during or after COVID-19 illness

What do headaches look like in everyday life?

Many people with Post-COVID headaches experience them daily, or almost every day. Some also experience sensitivity to light, sound and touch. Post-COVID headaches often occur after doing too much activity. You may find that if you don’t take frequent breaks, you can develop a debilitating headache that takes hours to resolve. You may also notice that on particularly stressful days, you develop a headache more easily than normal.

Management

The following tips may help you manage Post-COVID headaches:

  • Monitor for triggers and avoid triggering situations
  • Take medications such as Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Advil)

When should I talk to a healthcare professional?

Seek help if you experience the following:

  • You have a headache that occurs two or more days a week.
  • You have a moderate to severe headache that persists despite preventive therapies or simple painkillers.
  • You are allergic to headache medications.
  • You are using headache medications for more than two to three days per week.
  • You experience significant disability associated with your headaches.

When should I go to the emergency department?

Some headaches require immediate medical attention. These include the following:

  • Headaches with “thunderclap” onset (sudden severe onset of the headache, described as a clap of thunder, hence the name) which usually occurs during bleeding in the brain
  • Headaches associated with fever and signs of meningeal inflammation (neck stiffness, photophobia, nausea and vomiting) which is suggestive of brain infection
  • Headaches with a reduced level of consciousness
  • Headaches associated with signs of glaucoma (sudden, severe eye pain or blurred vision)

When should I speak to a
healthcare professional?

Headaches cause pain and discomfort and can lead to impaired function. Speak to a health professional experienced in Post-COVID to help diagnose and manage headaches.