Headache and Cold – Symptoms, Causes, and Management

Headache is commonly associated with cold symptoms. This is because sinuses get inflamed due to the cold which causes congestion and inflammation resulting in head and facial pain. Cold-related headaches often resolve within a few hours in case of the common cold or stuffy nose but may persist for days if the underlying cause is sinusitis. Headache is usually experienced in the forehead and behind the eyes.

Symptoms of cold-related headaches

  • Runny or congested nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chills
  • Excessive sneezing and cough
  • Sore throat
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle pain

Causes of cold-related headaches

There are several causes for headaches and colds to coexist. Some of the most common reasons are as follows:

Common cold and headache

During an episode of the cold, the immune system produces inflammatory molecules, called cytokines, to fight against the infection. The cytokines can sometimes cause inflammation which results in headaches during Cold.

Sinus headache

Inflammation of the paranasal sinuses can cause the pressure in the sinuses to increase so much that it causes pain in the cheeks, the forehead, and behind the eyes. Excessive congestion and failure in drainage of sinuses are significant causes of increased pressure.


Most of the time a migraine is confused with a sinus headache during a cold. Sinus problems can irritate the trigeminal nerve which in turn triggers a migraine attack in chronic sinusitis patients.

Viral infections

Some viral infections can also cause headaches. These are usually transmitted from an infected person when they cough or sneeze via respiratory droplets to the people around them. Most of these are self-limiting and go away within 5 to 7 days. Some of these viruses are listed under:

  • H. influenza
  • Respiratory syncytial virus
  • Rhinoviruses
  • Covid-19.

Risk factors

  • Young children and people of old age are more prone to get infected
  • Immunocompromised individuals
  • People who are exposed to patients who have a cold
  • People living in cold climates
  • Smokers.

Management of cold-related headaches

Headaches and colds can be easily managed and usually present with mild symptoms.


Most of the time headaches are associated with viral infections and go away within a week. However, if the cold persists you should get a nose or throat swab test to rule out any sort of bacterial infection and ask for an integration test for any kind of allergy. Your doctor might suggest getting some blood tests done in case of recurrent episodes.


  • Wash your hands frequently to avoid cross-contamination
  • Use a tissue paper or handkerchief to sneeze or cough and discard it after use
  • Avoid direct contact with an ill person
  • Use a disinfectant if someone at home is sick
  • Cover your head to keep warm.


  • Over-the-counter analgesics can help relieve the pain
  • Nasal decongestants can be given for a stuffy nose
  • Anti-bacterial can be given for bacterial infection
  • In the case of allergic sinusitis, an anti-allergy can prove helpful.

Home remedies

  • Stay hydrated
  • Take steam inhalation for a stuffy nose and sinus headache
  • Herbal teas and soups are very helpful for the cold
  • Meditation is also good for recurrent headaches
  • Saline water gargles are also good for Sore throat associated with cold
  • Supplements like Vitamin C, zinc, and others can also boost immunity.

When to consult a doctor?

If your headache does not go away even after taking analgesics or your cold takes longer than 15 days to recover and is associated with fever, you should consult a physician as soon as possible.


What is the most common cause of cold-related headaches?

Sinusitis is the most common cause of headaches associated with cold.

What is the best treatment for headaches in influenza?

An over-the-counter analgesic is best for pain relief. However, the headache can reoccur but influenza being a viral illness is self-limiting and goes away within a week.

Why is migraine in the common cold often confused with sinus headache?

Due to symptoms of a cold that resemble a sinus infection, the migraine is often misdiagnosed as a sinus headache.

How does cold cause migraines?

Irritation of the Trigeminal nerve leads to migraines, which are a major cause of headaches during cold.

Last medically reviewed on September 19, 2022.