If you’ve been experiencing more headaches since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, you’re not alone.
Doctors say they’ve seen an uptick in patients suffering from headaches and migraines.
“These times are stressful, and I’m sure those who get headaches, or migraines specifically, know that with times of stress, headache frequency will increase. And it is multifactorial,” Emad Estemalik, director of the headache team at the Cleveland Clinic, told WEWS.
What’s causing more headaches and migraines?
Headache and migraine triggers are different for everyone. They can be caused by anything from weather patterns to sleep behavior, exercise habits to food, Robert Cowan, director of the Stanford Headache Program, told KCBS.
“The thing to remember about triggers is they seem to be partial and additive,” he said. “A poor night’s sleep in combination with a glass of wine for dinner might give you a headache whereas either one of them alone may not be sufficient to trigger one.”
During the pandemic, Estemalik said factors including childcare and working from home are increasing stress levels, which can in turn cause headaches and migraines, according to the outlet.
Dr. Sarah Gibbons, a neurologist in Missouri, told KSHB that inconsistency can also make headaches and migraines worse.
“Not sleeping regularly, increased stressors, missing meals, not eating regularly” can all have an effect, Gibbons said, according to the outlet.
Since people have been shuttered up during the pandemic, they’ve also been spending more time looking at computer and smartphone screens, Lori Russell-Chapin, co-director of the Center for Collaborative Brain Research in Illinois, told Bustle.
Looking at screens for long periods of time can strain your eyes, leading to headaches.
“In our desire to keep watching or reading, we struggle to keep the eyes open and keep focusing, until we end up with eye aches and a headache,” surgical neuro-ophthamologist Howard Krauss told Bustle.
That influx of information you receive while scrolling through social media and the news can also make your stress levels spike, Estemalik told WEWS.
Is your headache a symptom of COVID-19?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes headaches as a symptom of the coronavirus, but doctors say a headache alone does not mean you have COVID-19.
“The vast majority, over 90, 95% (of COVID patients), did have at least one symptom out of the following when it came to COVID illness, and these were either fever, cough or shortness of breath,” Estemalik told WEWS. “So if you just have simply a headache without any other symptoms, it is extremely unlikely that you’re dealing with COVID.”
Those who regularly suffer from headaches shouldn’t be concerned it they’re experiencing them during the pandemic, Brad Herskowitz, a neurolgoist in Florida, told WTVJ.
However, he said it would be “a little bit alarming” if a person who never has headaches suddenly developed them during the pandemic.
But headaches experienced by COVID-19 patients are different than those experienced by migraine sufferers, Cowan told KCBS.
Those who experienced a COVID-19-related headache had “a global headache or pressure-like headache around the temples,” he said. “Migraines typically start as a throbbing sensation on one side or the other. They feel differently according to patients I’ve talked to who’ve experienced both.”
How to alleviate your headaches
Estemalik suggests making an effort to determine your headache triggers and avoid them, WEWS reported.
Doctors at Temple Health also recommend staying hydrated throughout the day and keeping caffeine and alcohol intake to a minimum. Those working from home should also take care to use good posture.
Those suffering from headaches should ensure they’re staying on a regular sleep and meal schedule, according to Cowan. They should also consider implementing a regular exercise regimen, Temple Health said.
If you’re spending a lot of time looking at computer and phone screens, be sure to take breaks from your screentime.
The American Optometric Society recommends the 20-20-20 rule, which stipulates that every 20 minutes, you take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. If you’ve been looking at a screen more than two hours, give yourself a 15-minute break to rest your eyes, the society said.
Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing or other mindfulness practices could also help alleviate headaches, Temple Health said.
“Most Americans are struggling to find the time to breathe, yet alone carve out time to meditate or exercise,” Gregory Nawalanic, clinical psychologist at the University of Kansas, told Bustle. “That said, it’s more important than ever.”