A tension headache can be a common early symptom of COVID-19 infection with the Omicron variant. You may feel moderate to severe pain on both sides of the head.

COVID-19 is a viral infection that more than 508 million people have developed through April 2022. It’s caused by a type of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections.

Headaches are one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. Data released from the COVID Symptoms Study in December 2021 revealed that headaches were one of the five most reported symptoms of the Omicron variant, along with:

  • runny nose
  • fatigue
  • sneezing
  • sore throat

COVID-19 has been linked to tension headaches and migraine. When headaches appear, they often appear as one of the early symptoms.

In most cases, headaches go away within a couple of weeks, but some people experience long-haul headaches for weeks or months after infection.

Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms of COVID-19 headaches and what you can do about them.

Many studies have confirmed that headaches are one of the most common neurological symptoms of COVID-19. When they appear, they’re generally the first symptom.

However, there are no specific characteristics of COVID-19-caused headaches that are different from other types of headache.

It’s important to pay attention to whether the headache is more intense than you’re used to or whether it occurs at an unusual time and not because of typical stressors.

Most people who experience COVID-19 headaches develop tension headaches with the following characteristics:

  • moderate or severe intensity
  • pain on both sides of the head
  • pulsing or pressing feeling
  • pain around the forehead, sides of the head, or around the eyes
  • poor responses to over-the-counter (OTC) medications

About a quarter of people who experience COVID-19 headaches also have migraine episodes. These headaches can occur in people without a history of migraine.

Migraine may cause:

  • pain, usually on one side of the head
  • throbbing or pulsing pain
  • sensitivity to light, sound, smell, or touch
  • nausea and vomiting

People with COVID-19 who develop headaches also tend to develop:

  • fever
  • sore throat
  • loss of taste
  • loss of smell
  • muscle aches

In a 2022 study, researchers found that among 288 people with COVID-19, 22.2 percent developed neurological symptoms. Of these people, 69.1 percent developed headaches.

Headaches generally lasted for 7 days. They persisted for more than 30 days in 18 percent of people who developed headaches and more than 3 months in 10 percent.

In another 2022 study, researchers found that in a group of 905 people who developed COVID-19 headaches, half experienced headaches for longer than 2 weeks.

If you have a previous history of headaches, avoiding your known triggers may help reduce headache occurrence. Alcohol is a common trigger for migraine, so you may benefit from avoiding it.

A number of home remedies may help you manage your symptoms. These include:

Corticosteroids may help treat prolonged headaches that don’t respond to other treatments.

In most people, COVID-19 causes mild or moderate symptoms that can be treated with rest and drinking fluids.

In rare cases, COVID-19 has been linked to thunderclap headaches. These headaches can cause severe pain that onsets within seconds.

Medical emergency

Thunderclap headaches may be a sign of bleeding in the brain that requires prompt medical attention. It’s critical to see medical attention immediately if you experience a severe headache that onsets quickly.

You should also seek emergency medical attention if you experience any of the emergency COVID-19 symptoms:

  • trouble breathing
  • pain or pressure in your chest
  • confusion
  • blue or gray lips, face, or nails
  • trouble staying away or waking

Note: People with dark skin may not be able to notice discoloration that indicates oxygen deprivation as easily as people with lighter skin.

If you have long-haul COVID-19 symptoms, it’s important to visit your doctor for an evaluation and to build a proper treatment plan.

Headaches are one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. One review of studies found that among 6,635 people with COVID-19, 12.9 percent developed headaches or dizziness.

Another review found 10.9 percent of people with COVID-19 in a group of 7,559 reported headaches.

Women and younger people seem to be most prone to developing COVID-19 headaches.

It’s not clear exactly why COVID-19 causes headaches, but both indirect and direct factors may contribute.

It’s been suggested that the virus may invade your brain tissue, possibly through your olfactory system or by crossing the blood-brain barrier and promoting inflammation. It’s possible that dysfunction of your hypothalamus or trigeminal nerve may also contribute.

Some people with COVID-19 may develop a cytokine storm (overproduction of pro-inflammatory molecules by the immune system). This reaction may lead to neuroinflammation that causes headaches.

Other factors like low oxygen levels to the brain, dehydration, or not eating normally can also all potentially contribute to the development of headaches.

Headaches are a common side effect of COVID-19 vaccines. They’re reported by about half of people who receive vaccines and usually onset within 72 hours. Headaches can occur by themselves or with other symptoms like:

  • joint pain
  • muscle aches
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • diarrhea

Headaches usually resolve within a few days.

Medical emergency

Headaches that onset later can be a sign of a serious complication called cerebral venous thrombosis. The National Health Service recommends seeking emergency medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms between 4 days to 4 weeks after your vaccine:

  • severe headache not relieved with pain medication, or pain that gets worse
  • headache that feels worse when you lie down or bend over
  • headache that’s accompanied by blurred vision, sickness, speech problems, weakness, drowsiness, or seizures
  • rash that looks like a small bruise or bleeding under your skin
  • shortness of breath, chest pain, abdominal pain, or leg swelling

Headaches are one of the most reported symptoms of COVID-19. Tension headaches are most common, but about a quarter of people who report headaches experience migraine episodes. Migraine sometimes develops in people with no previous history.

COVID-19 can usually be managed with rest, but it’s important to visit a doctor if you develop emergency symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pain. It’s also important to visit your doctor if you develop long-haul symptoms for a proper evaluation.