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Having more headaches during the pandemic? It's not just you

Having more headaches during the pandemic? It's not just you
Posted at 5:06 AM, Jul 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 08:10:18-04

CLEVELAND — If you've been getting more headaches lately, you're not alone. The Cleveland Clinic's headache team said it's seeing an increase among its patients who typically suffer from headaches or migraines.

Dr. Emad Estemalik, director of the headache section at the Cleveland Clinic, said times are tough for a lot of patients, but headache patients have continued to receive care, either in person or virtually, during the pandemic.

"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," Estemalik said.

Estemalik cited several potential reasons for the increase in headaches, including simultaneously working from home and caring for children, which can cause an increase in stress levels.

He also said that the pandemic's uncertain nature could trigger headaches, anxiety, and stress, which can increase headaches.

"The amount of information or influx of information that people are getting" also contributes, Estemalik said. "So imagine you're sitting at home or you're working from home. You have a lot of screen time if you're working on a computer, for instance, so you're constantly navigating through news, blogs, social media and tons of information are coming."

Trying to absorb that, Estemalik said, can make people more anxious and stressed, increasing the frequency of headaches.

In addition, weather can be a contributing factor — a change in temperature or extreme heat or cold can cause issues.

"We know that barometric pressure change has an enormous effect in terms of increasing somebody's headache," Estemalik said. "We've had temperatures close to 100, lasting sometimes a week. That in itself can be a triggering factor as well."

He also cited sudden rain, thunderstorms and high humidity as potential triggers.

For those concerned that their headaches may be symptoms of COVID-19, Estemalik said that while respiratory viruses often involve headaches, it is not likely for COVID-19 to present only with headaches.

"The vast majority, over 90-95% [of those with COVID-19], 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 said. "So if you just have simply a headache without any other symptoms, it is extremely unlikely that you're dealing with COVID. Now, if you suddenly are short of breath or you have a fever out of the blue and you have an excruciating headache, that's a different story."

He urged those who suffer from migraines or headaches to be aware of and avoid their triggers, whether they are food-related or environmental or simply stress-related. He also suggested trying those who suffer frequent headaches limit computer and phone screen time, social media usage and news consumption.

This story was originally published by Olivia Fecteau on WEWS in Cleveland.