Headache and fever: What’s the link?

Causes
Treatment
Prevention
Babies and children
Seeing a doctor
Summary
Headache and fever are common symptoms of a variety of medical conditions. Sometimes people may experience a headache and a fever together.

Sometimes, having a headache and a fever at the same time can be serious, so people experiencing both may wish to consult a doctor for a diagnosis.

Some people may also have concerns about whether they have contracted SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as both of these symptoms have an association with COVID-19.

However, several other conditions can cause a headache and fever together.

Keep reading to learn more about the different causes and treatments for headache and fever, including some prevention tips.

Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.
Causes

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Fever and headache are both symptoms of meningitis.
The following are some potential causes of a fever and headache:

Meningitis

Meningitis is a bacterial or viral infection that causes inflammation of the meninges, which are membranes that surround the brain. If the meninges become inflamed, a person can develop a headache. Meningitis can be life-threatening.

Other symptoms of meningitis often include:

a fever
a headache
neck pain or stiffness
light-sensitivity
dizziness
confusion
nausea and vomiting
Flu

The seasonal flu occurs between October and March in the Northern Hemisphere and between April and August in the Southern Hemisphere. Influenza viruses travel from person to person through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, and talking.

When a person catches the flu, they may experience the following symptoms:

a fever
a headache
a cough
a sore throat
muscle aches and pains
a runny nose
congested eyes
light sensitivity
shortness of breath
Sinus infection

Sinus infections are one of the most common infections treated in doctor’s offices. People with acute sinusitis typically experience a sudden or gradual onset of symptoms lasting less than 4 weeks. People with chronic sinusitis may experience symptoms for 3 or more months.

The symptoms of sinus infections include:

a headache
a fever
facial pain and pressure
nasal congestion
excessive fatigue
bad breath
dental pain
a cough
Ear infection

When the fluid within the middle ear becomes infected, a person may develop an ear infection. Ear infections are the second most common reason that children visit the pediatrician. Most ear infections occur in children between 6 and 24 months.

Bacteria or viruses can cause ear infections. Pain is one of the most common symptoms, but some babies and young children may experience non-specific symptoms, including:

a fever
a headache
disturbed sleep
poor feeding
irritability
vomiting
diarrhea
Heatstroke

Heatstroke typically occurs when a person’s body temperature rises above 40°C (104°F) after prolonged exposure to heat. People may also develop heatstroke by physical overexertion in high temperatures. Neurological symptoms, such as seizures and confusion, typically accompany heatstroke.

Heatstroke is a serious condition that can be life-threatening if left untreated. Anyone who experiences any symptoms of heatstroke must seek medical attention immediately.

Heatstroke can develop progressively. Sometimes, a person may not notice the symptoms of heat-related illnesses developing, as they can appear very similar. However, the illness may progress from heat exhaustion, heat injury, to life-threatening heatstroke. Symptoms may include:

a headache
cramping
fatigue
dizziness
nausea
vomiting
Once the heat-related illness affects the organs or central nervous system, the person has likely progressed to heatstroke.

Vaccinations

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services, some people may experience mild side effects soon after getting vaccinated. These may include:

a headache
a mild fever
chills
fatigue
pain, swelling, and redness on the affected area
muscle aches
joint aches
These side effects are likely to disappear quickly without medical intervention or medication.

Medications

Some people may experience flu-like symptoms when starting a new medication. Flu-like symptoms may include:

a fever
a headache
chills
muscle aches
a cough
sore throat
runny nose
fatigue
nausea
vomiting
diarrhea
Some anticancer medications, such as interferon and interleukin, can cause flu-like symptoms. Other drugs that may cause flu-like symptoms include the tuberculosis medications rifapentine and isoniazid. Flu-like symptoms may last for a few hours or a few days.

Cancer

Cancer has many different symptoms, but not everyone will experience all of them. Sometimes cancer can occur without any symptoms at all. Some signs and symptoms of cancer may include:

pain, including a headache
a fever
unexplained weight loss
fatigue
skin changes
a cough
changes in bowel or bladder function
persistent sores that do not heal
white patches on the tongue
unusual bleeding or discharge
a lump
Specific types of cancers may present with other symptoms.

Treatment
The treatment for headache and fever depends on its cause.

Meningitis

If a person has bacterial meningitis, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Other treatments involve supportive care to make the person feel more comfortable. Some people may require:

airway management
oxygenation
intravenous fluids
antipyretics to control fever
Flu

In most situations, the flu will go away without medical intervention. Some people may wish to take medications, such as antipyretics, to reduce their fever. Antipyretics, such as acetaminophen, are also pain relievers and can help reduce headaches. People usually do not require antiviral medications.

Some people may require treatment or prevention with antivirals. When an outbreak occurs in a healthcare facility, such as a long-term care facility, doctors may prescribe antivirals to all residents.

Sinus infection

Doctors may recommend that people with sinus infections use humidifiers, nasal washes, and nasal decongestants to reduce symptoms. Some people, however, may require topical or oral steroids to reduce inflammation in the nasal passages.

Depending on the severity of the infection, the symptoms, and a variety of other factors, doctors may prescribe antibiotics.

Ear infections

Doctors may not always prescribe antibiotics for children with ear infections. Some doctors suggest watchful waiting at first and only prescribe an antibiotic treatment if the ear infection does not resolve.

To control pain and fever, doctors will likely recommend pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

If a healthcare provider decides antibiotics are necessary, they will choose the appropriate one based on a person’s allergies, the severity of the infection, the presence of other symptoms or infections, and any resistance that might be present in their area.

Heatstroke

To treat heatstroke, a medical team will check the person’s airway, breathing, and circulation. They will then provide rapid cooling to prevent further damage to internal organs. In most cases, doctors will ensure the individual is hydrated.


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Prevention
To prevent getting sick from bacteria or viruses, doctors suggest that people practice frequent and proper handwashing. If a vaccine is available and indicated for a specific condition, doctors recommend that people should have the shot.

The most effective way to treat heatstroke is prevention. Wearing appropriate clothing and rescheduling strenuous outdoor work or activities in hot and humid weather are two effective strategies to prevent heat-related illnesses.

In babies and children
Ear infections are common in babies and children. Sometimes doctors may recommend watchful waiting to see if the infection goes away.

Although fever and headache are common symptoms in babies and children, they may be unable to express feelings of a headache.

Parents and guardians should check for other signs when a child has a fever, such as excessive fatigue, lack of appetite, vomiting, among others.

Antipyretics and pain relievers may help, but parents should seek medical attention first.

Babies and children may also develop meningitis, which can be life-threatening.

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When to see a doctor
If antipyretics and pain relievers are not successful in controlling fever or headache, people need to seek medical attention.

Typically, fever and headaches are temporary symptoms, so people with persistent fever and headache must also consult a doctor.

Anyone with a temperature above 39.5°C (103.1°F) should strongly consider seeking medical attention or call a healthcare provider to discuss the other symptoms.


Summary
Headache and fever are unspecific symptoms because they have associations with a variety of conditions and diseases. They are also common side effects of many different treatments.

Some people may be concerned went they develop a headache and a fever at the same time, but most often it is not due to anything serious.

Anyone experiencing unexplained symptoms should speak with a doctor or other healthcare provider. When antipyretic drugs and pain relievers do not help to lower a fever or control headaches, the person should speak to a doctor who may be able to recommend a more suitable treatment.