Headache with a cold


A cold headache is a very common symptom. In addition to the other classic symptoms of fever, limb pain, runny nose and sore throat, it is often the headache that can be particularly agonizing.

The real "cold headache" does not seem to exist, however, rather it is a "symptom of a symptom", for example the result of swollen mucous membranes and accumulation of mucus in the paranasal sinuses (sinusitis), which can develop from a blocked, runny nose. Presumably, however, certain messenger substances, which are increasingly released in the body when you have a cold, can also cause headaches.

Why do colds and headaches occur so often together?

Why it is usually the case that a cold is accompanied by a headache is still not fully understood.

In most cases, it is assumed that the headache is not a direct reaction to the viral or bacterial infection, but rather a "symptom of the symptom": often a flu-like infection leads to a runny nose, which is the nose and not rarely also clog the sinuses. The reason for this is the swelling of the nasal and sinus lining as part of an inflammatory reaction (Rhinitis, sinusitis). This not only leads to an increased production of secretion, but also to a reduced outflow of it, so that the pressure in the paranasal sinuses increases. These changes in pressure eventually lead to the perception of a headache.

Another or perhaps an additional approach is that when a cold occurs, more messenger substances (cytokines) are released during the immune system, to which the body reacts with a headache.

Also read: Symptoms of a cold

Cause of headache

As mentioned above, the most common cause of headache during a cold is inflammation of the sinuses (Sinusitis). The swelling of the sinus mucous membranes together with the increased secretion production and the more or less poor drainage of the secretion ultimately lead to an increase in pressure in the airways and thus to headaches. Depending on which sinuses are affected, the location of the headache can also vary.

Another reason is the release of messenger substances by the immune system in the defense against pathogens, to which the body reacts with headaches. If tiredness and weakness occur more often when you have a cold, so that you keep calm and lie down more than usual, very simple tension and neck pain can also trigger headaches.

Sinus infection

Not infrequently it happens that a sinus infection develops during a cold, too Sinusitis called, developed.
One or more paranasal sinuses can be affected, but most often the maxillary sinuses and ethmoid cells become inflamed (more rarely the frontal sinuses and sphenoid sinuses). The headache is mainly centered in the area of ​​the affected paranasal sinus; palpation with light pressure over the respective paranasal sinus can also be painful. Sinusitis usually ends when the cold is over, and in some cases it lasts a few days longer than the cold symptoms. It rarely takes a chronic course.

Read more on this topic at: Treatment of a sinus infection


Therapeutic measures that can help with headache in the context of a cold:

  • fresh air
  • adequate fluid intake (tea or water)
  • Rest and relaxation
  • Inhale
  • Medicines such as pain medication

Fresh air and a little rest can sometimes have a big effect on headaches. The targeted relaxation of the neck muscles should also be pursued. Often, however, there is no way around common medicines that take away the excruciating headache, especially when you have a cold. However, before taking a tablet, various home remedies can be tried out. In addition, you should consult your family doctor beforehand about the pain medication you have taken.

You might also be interested in: When do I have to see a doctor with a cold?


If the headache of a cold is caused by a sinus infection and / or a runny nose and the resulting increase in pressure in the airways, inhalation can be a way of relieving the symptoms.

Inhaling with simple table salt, either using a special inhalation device or the classic way using a hot steam bath overhead, can loosen the mucus and help the mucous membranes to swell and the secretion to drain off better. It is also possible to add chamomile, sage, thyme or eucalyptus oil, which can also have a calming and soothing effect on other symptoms.

Other articles that might interest you:

  • Inhaling if you have a cold
  • Cold bath

Medical therapy

  • Aspirin (ASA), ibuprofen, diclofenac
  • Paracetamol
  • Grippostat C
  • Thomapyrin
  • WICK MediNight®

The classic headache medications are primarily pain relievers.
Since the headache of a cold is accompanied by chills and fever, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic painkillers from the class of so-called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are particularly suitable. The preparations acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), ibuprofen, diclofenac and the so-called coxibs have an anti-pain and anti-inflammatory effect, as well as reducing fever, whereby ibuprofen and ASA are particularly suitable for cold headaches.
Paracetamol and Novaminsulfon (Metamizol) have a pain relieving and fever lowering effect, but not anti-inflammatory, the latter being the one with the strongest effect of the drugs mentioned here.
Over the counter in pharmacies there are also various combination preparations that are used for colds and contain, among other things, preparations for headaches: the combination of paracetamol / caffeine / vitamin C / chlorphenamine (Grippostat C), ASA / vitamin C (Aspirin plus) is known C), ASA / Caffeine (Aspirin forte), ASA / Paracetamol (Thomapyrin), ASA / Paracetamol / Caffeine (Thomapyrin Intensive), and Paracetamol / Detromethorphan / Ephedrine / Doxylamine (WICK MediNight).

Read more about this: Cold medicines

Home remedies for a cold

Because the headache during a cold primarily comes from a blocked nose or inflamed sinuses, inhalation is one of the best-known and at the same time most effective. The classic head steam bath with pure table salt water or with additives such as chamomile, sage, thyme, peppermint or eucalyptus oil can alleviate headaches. The warm water vapor moistens the stressed mucous membranes and loosens the tough mucus so that the stuck secretions can drain off better, especially in the sinuses. If this is the case, the pressure in the sinus system also drops and the headache subsides.

Warm towels / washcloths placed on the face / forehead can have a similar, if not quite as intense, effect. What is beneficial varies from person to person, some affected people even swear by Käte, so that damp, cold washcloths are preferred on the forehead. Furthermore, it is often shown that ginger has a beneficial effect when used in headaches and migraines, the preferred serving here is a fresh ginger tea.

Read more on this topic at: Home remedies for a cold

Homeopathy for a cold

Some homeopathic remedies can be taken as a supplement for headaches, the following ones listed here aim in particular at headaches during a cold and a migraine attack: Bryonia (bryony), Silicea (silica), Gelsenium (Carolina jasmine), Belladonna (black belladonna), Pulsatilla (cow puffs), Cimicifuga (grape silver candle) and Ignatia (Ignatius nugget).

Read more on this topic at: Naturopathy for a cold

Duration of the headache

The headache, if it occurs as a symptom of a sinus infection or as a reaction to the increased secretion of messenger substances as part of the defense reaction of the body's own immune system, subsides over the course of the day, like the other cold symptoms.
On average, a cold lasts one to two weeks, but this cannot be specified across the board as it can vary from person to person. If the headache persists from the cold, a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible. Irrespective of a flu-like infection, headaches can have numerous other causes, including more dangerous and life-threatening ones, so that clarification is definitely advisable.

Read more on this topic at: Duration of a cold

Different types of headaches

Forehead headache

Frontal headaches associated with a cold are often a sign of sinus infection, especially the frontal sinuses. If these are clogged, the pressure increases here, which we perceive as a headache. Characteristic of this is an intensification of pain when bending forward or down and when pressing.

Other possible causes of forehead headaches can also be tension, especially in the neck muscles. These are also not uncommon in the context of a cold, especially if the cold forces you to spend a large part of the day in bed.

But migraines can also trigger a headache, which can also be concentrated in the forehead region, among other things. Migraines can, but need not, be triggered by a flu-like infection. In addition, stress, overwork and lack of sleep can easily trigger a headache centered in the forehead, all three of which can also be caused by a cold. If the forehead headache persists over the other cold symptoms or if it becomes severe or unbearable, a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible, as there can always be far more dangerous causes behind them.

Read more on this topic at: Headache in the forehead area

Occipital headache

Occipital headaches are rather untypical in the context of a cold. The most common and, at the same time, harmless cause of occipital headache are acute or chronic neck muscle tension. Often affected are patients who predominantly sit and / or perform computer-related activities, who suffer from stress and lack of exercise.

Other causes that can also lead to occipital headaches are much rarer, but also significantly more dangerous: if they occur together with dizziness, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck or even impaired consciousness, a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible. Dangerous causes include meningitis, cerebral haemorrhage, occlusions of the cerebral vessels or slipped discs in the cervical spine.

Read more on this topic at: Back of the headache

Concomitant symptoms

  • Sore throat
  • difficulties swallowing
  • Body aches
  • Neck pain
  • fever
  • to cough
  • sniff
  • Earache

A cold typically runs in different phases: At the beginning, the affected people often notice a scratchy throat, which can worsen to a sore throat with accompanying difficulty swallowing. Next up are mostly the classic headaches and body aches. During this phase, there is often an increase in body temperature up to fever, which can be preceded by chills. At the height of the cold, the headache and body aches are maximal, and a feeling of increased tiredness, exhaustion and weakness can set in. In addition, a runny nose can also occur, which can sometimes spread to a sinus infection, which in turn leads to stronger headache symptoms.
If the flu infection is not limited locally to the upper respiratory tract but rather "spreads" into the deeper respiratory tract, a dry cough, a productive cough, hoarseness and larynx pain from accompanying laryngitis or bronchitis can also occur.

Neck pain with a cold

The most common cause of neck pain is tension in the neck and / or back muscles. These can occur during a cold, especially if you lie down a lot during the illness.

Nevertheless, caution is advised if neck pain occurs with a cold: In the case of a viral or bacterial cold, the pathogens can always spread to the meninges, causing them to become inflamed (meningitis) and head and neck pain (or neck stiffness) to lead. The risk of this increases when a sinus infection occurs as part of a cold. Some of the paranasal sinuses are only separated from the brain and its meninges by a paper-thin layer of bone, so that pathogens can pass through this bone layer. This sometimes life-threatening complication of what is initially a mundane cold should be treated immediately by a doctor.
Therefore, going to the doctor is urgently recommended if you have severe neck pain and headaches during a flu-like infection.

Also read the article: Cold and back pain.

Eye pain with a cold

If eye pain occurs during a cold, this is often caused by inflammation of the paranasal sinuses.
If the pathogens of the common cold (mostly viruses, more rarely bacteria) spread through the nasal cavity further into the paranasal sinuses, there is an inflammatory swelling of the mucus there as well as an increased secretion production and a stagnation of secretion. The resulting increased pressure in the sinus system can cause various symptoms. Depending on which paranasal sinuses are affected, tooth, ear, head and eye pain can also occur.
Eye pain occurs especially when the ethmoid cells or the maxillary sinuses are affected. Due to the close proximity to the eye sockets, there is also increased pressure on the optic nerve, which in turn causes the eye pain. The eye pain is then often accompanied by visual disturbances in the form of blurred images. In addition, there can be increased pressure on the eye muscles, so that the eye can no longer move quite as well and double vision occurs.

Toothache with a cold

The main reason for toothache is a defect in the teeth or the gums themselves, which can coincide with a cold.
But it is also possible that the cold itself causes a toothache. These are then often localized in the upper jaw, in which case they usually result from an inflammation of the maxillary sinuses. If a sinus infection occurs as part of a cold, the viscous secretion builds up so that it can a. can lead to increased pressure on the tooth roots in the upper jaw area.

Read more on this topic at: Toothache with a cold

Earache with a cold

In some cases, in addition to the mucous membrane of the nose and paranasal sinuses, the mucous membrane in the middle ear can also become inflamed. This can either be the case if the flu-like infection of the upper respiratory tract spreads or if the weakened immune system also leads to an infection with certain pathogens that can specifically trigger an otitis media.
It is not uncommon for colds to spread into the middle ear, as there is a direct connection between the nasal / paranasal sinuses, throat and middle ear. In adults, however, co-inflammation of the middle ear tends to be rarer and more common in children. Inflamed paranasal sinuses, especially those of the ethmoid cells and the sphenoid sinus, can also lead to ear pain.

Read more on this topic at: Earache

Pain in the limbs with a cold

Body ache is a symptom of colds that almost everyone is familiar with.Once the viruses spread through the body, it doesn't take long before the painful feeling of sore muscles, bones, hairlines and areas of skin sets in.
These aches and pains, as well as the often accompanying headaches, are caused by certain messenger substances of the immune system, which are released by certain defense cells. Not only do they attract more immune cells, but they also make the body more sensitive to pain. Even if it is an unpleasant symptom, it also shows at the same time that the body is running at full speed and is doing everything it can to ward off the invading pathogens.

Sore throat with a cold

Sore throats often occur as part of a cold, especially in the first few days, the sick patients feel the first symptom of an uncomfortable scratchy throat. Occasionally it can get worse up to a sore throat, making swallowing uncomfortable and painful. As the cold progresses, the sore throat often goes away, provided it is a banal viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.
However, some pathogens (viruses or bacteria) also specifically trigger a sore throat (Pharyngitis), Laryngitis (laryngitis) or tonsillitis (Tonsillar angina), with the sore throat being the main symptom. Laryngitis, in particular, can, however, also result from the spread of the common cold in a weakened immune system.

Read more on this topic at: Causes of Sore Throat