Cold and flu season: Why you get a headache when you’re sick

Cold and flu season: Why you get a headache when you’re sick

By the time the blistering Australian summer finally wanes, you’re probably more than ready for some cooler weather. There’s something comforting about digging out the winter beanie and snuggling under a thick doona. 

The only trouble is that germs like winter too. Suddenly, your nose is running, you’re shivering and your head is pounding. Why does this happen more in the colder months? And what can you do about it? 

Why are colds and flu more common in winter? 

A study published in December 2022 found that cold air damages the immune response in your nose. A temperature drop of just 5 degrees Celsius kills nearly 50% of the cells in your nostrils that fight viruses and bacteria. 

Plus, cold weather tends to drive us indoors, where viruses circulate more easily. And cold and flu viruses themselves survive longer in cooler temperatures with lower humidity. 

Once those germs attack you, you tend to fall over quickly. Before long, you’re lying on the sofa, huddled under a blanket and surrounded by a pile of tissues. And your head is throbbing. 

Why do colds cause headaches?

There are a few theories about this. The headaches you experience as part of cold and flu symptoms could be due to: 

  • Swelling in your sinuses
  • Inflammation as your body fights off the infection
  • Dehydration
  • Tiredness from poor sleep
  • Straining while coughing. 

Let’s look more closely at that first point. Your sinuses are a series of passages that lie behind your cheeks, nose and eyes. When you succumb to a cold, your body starts producing more mucus in your sinuses to flush it out. When the mucus builds up, your sinuses become irritated and sometimes painful. 

That congestion can trigger a sinus headache. It also puts pressure on your trigeminal nerve, causing pain behind your face. A sinus headache often feels worse first thing in the morning. You might experience pain and pressure in your forehead or behind your cheeks and eyes. That pain is often worse when you bend over or lie down. 

How do you treat a sinus headache at home? 

To manage a sinus headache at home, you could:

    • Use steam – this helps to relieve blockages and move the mucus along your sinus. You can use a humidifier or simply put a towel over your head, lean over a bowl of boiling water and breathe the steam in deeply. Add a drop of menthol or eucalyptus oil if you like. 
    • Drink waterKeeping your fluids up is important when you’re sick. Good hydration supports your immune system and helps to ease congestion. 
    • Irrigate your sinuses – use a netti pot or an over-the-counter saline spray
    • Relieve pain – with over-the-counter medications. 

Pain Relief Naproxen Liquid Capsules (from the makers of Deep Heat)

Pain Relief Naproxen Liquid Capsules can assist in providing convenient fast-acting relief for fever, headaches and cold and flu. 

Feel it work – and continue to work for up to 12 hours. 

As another cold and flu season rolls around, it pays to be prepared. Add some Pain Relief Naproxen Liquid Capsules (from the makers of Deep Heat) to your first aid kit so you’re one step ahead when cold or flu symptoms strike. 

Available from Chemist Warehouse and other leading pharmacies.