Some long-haulers who beat COVID-19 are left with constant headaches months afterward

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- We've heard about the life-threatening symptoms faced by COVID-19 long-haulers, the people who deal with the effects of the disease for months.

But though it's not potentially lethal, scientists are noticing a debilitating long-haul symptom experienced by many COVID-19 victims -- headaches.

For many people who have experienced occasional or even somewhat frequent headaches, over-the-counter remedies such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen often provide relief.

That was the case for Duplin County farmer Quinn Howard until he came down with COVID-19.

"Ibuprofen and Tylenol, it ain't a Skittle for these things," Howard said referring to the headaches he's had since mid-September.

We met Howard at the Carolina Headache Institute in Durham where he is seeing neurologist Dr. Alan Finkel.

Howard and his wife got COVID-19 last summer, he told ABC11.

He recalled the first two weeks after they were infected saying, "Having COVID was not all that bad. We got through it. Our symptoms were fairly mild."

But six weeks after Howard thought he had recovered, the headaches started.

"Every day since the middle to end of September I have had a headache of some form," he said.

According to Dr. Finkel, "Those headaches may have features of migraine, the light sensitivity and the noise sensitivity that Quinn talked about, and even things like nausea and dizziness and the desire to hibernate and get away from things. But what differentiates this headache from migraine and other primary headaches, is that it's continuous."

In late February, Howard went to get his first COVID-19 vaccination while he had a headache, of course.

He vividly remembers what happened a few hours later.

"At seven o'clock that night I was laying in the bed because I had the headache. It was just like you flip the light switch and my headache went away," he said.

The relief turned out to be only temporary but welcome, he said, "I sure had two good weeks anyhow."

Howard said the frequency has slowed, however, and he hopes his second vaccination will help even more.

Finkel says similar relief has followed the vaccination of others.

But until studies are done he can only speculate.

"It may have somehow tricked his immune system into stopping releasing one of the chemicals," Finkel said.

Howard doesn't care what cure might be found for long-COVID headaches, he just wants one.

"I hope there is a normal again because I don't believe that this is the rest of my life," he said.
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.