How COVID-19 headaches are different from others—and how to manage them

Experts say three types of headaches can occur with coronavirus infection. Figuring out which one someone has is key to finding the right treatment.

As a survivor of a traumatic brain injury that happened a little more than a decade ago, Heather Schroeder is no stranger to headaches. She’s controlled her intermittent migraines with medication and Botox injections since a horse-riding accident. But when she caught COVID-19 in July 2021, the headaches she suffered were “living hell,” she says.

“Unlike a migraine related to my TBI, this one descended like a blanket being thrown over my head. It wasn't a process of getting a headache. I suddenly had a headache, and it was excruciating,” says Schroeder, a 52-year-old from Knoxville, Tennessee. “A normal migraine for me can be an eight or nine out of 10, with vomiting, light sensitivity, and post-migraine malaise. This headache was a 20 out of 10.”

Neither Tylenol nor migraine rescue medications reduced the pain, she says. The headache persisted for two weeks and deprived her of sleep—allowing her only 15 to 45 minutes at a time. “A lot of people I know spent their COVID quarantine watching television or reading,” Schroeder says. “I spent it with a cold pack on my head trying to endure the pain of the headache.”

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