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Why Can’t a Cold Just Be a Cold? I Always Get a Migraine, Too.

When I’m sick with anything other than migraine, I joke with my friends and family: “I can handle a migraine like a pro,” I say, “but give me the cold, the flu, or a backache, and I turn into a whine machine.”  (Or something like that.  And yes, I am dorky enough to use made-up phrases like “whine machine.”)

I’ve had two or three colds in 2014. It seems as if I get colds more frequently than I used to, but really I have a feeling their seeming increased occurrence seems mostly to do with the fact that I’m getting older and time is going by faster. In any case, by early May of this year I had had two different week-long colds and I was over it.

When I get a cold, I may whine (a lot), but I can handle it.  I sniffle and sneeze and make sure to have my own personal box of tissues nearby. I follow my mama’s advice and drink lots of clear liquids and use the opportunity to get as much sleep as possible—this time under the auspices of health needs, not general laziness. If I must work at the bookshop, I refrain from hugging anyone or shaking hands, and I wash my hands and all our shared work tools (computer keyboard, mouse, cash drawer, etc.) when I finish my shift.  In short, I’m pretty careful not to spread my germs, and if I feel really bad, I stay home.

Here’s what aggravates me the most about having a cold, though: I always end up with a migraine on top of it all.  It drives me absolutely nuts.  “Why can’t a cold just be a cold!?” I say as I shake my fist in the air.  (Though shaking my fist would probably jar my head, which would make the pain worse, so maybe that particular caricature should give it a rest.)

As soon as I get a handle on the cold and its gross particulars, a migraine comes along. Is it because a migraine would have shown up this week no matter what? Is it because my head is stuffy? Is it because I have been sleeping more than usual or have had interrupted sleep due to discomfort from the cold?  Have I had a loss in appetite due to the virus and accidentally skipped meals, causing my blood sugar levels to vacillate unhealthily?

When I get the migraine on top of the cold, I’m officially useless. This is when I get my store shifts covered and, in spite of my best hopes, end up not even writing a quick email back to folks to say, “I’m not feeling well. I’ll be in touch soon.”

Do you migraineurs out there find that you tend to get a migraine on top of whatever temporary ailment you’re dealing with? When your body is already sick and tired with something unrelated to migraine, what measures do you take to make sure you stay migraine-free for as long as you can?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Anne
    4 years ago

    it makes sense – inflammation triggers migraines and colds definitely inflame the sinuses. I am having a cold/migraine day today. My brain fog yesterday was a killer. I felt like I was sleep walking.

  • Margaret
    5 years ago

    Me too! Any kind of sinus issue (cold, allergies, etc) almost always equals migraines too. And nothing seems to work on it except migraine meds. I also shake my fist at the air as well.. oy.

  • Angie
    5 years ago

    I stopped to read the comments because I have a cold right now! I thought it was allergies, but alas, no such luck. And sure enough I had to take migraine meds last night. My migraines are menstrual, so I don’t have them as regularly as most of you, but those rebound migraines are a pain in the butt. Should I take a pill, should I wait and see, if I wait will I wait too long? If I were to just have a migraine, that’s 3 days of pain plus another day to recoup. I take Sumatriptian, but my mothers’ doctor told me to take feverfew. Anybody know if this works?

  • Marie
    5 years ago

    All the time. Got a fever? Migraine. Get the flu? Migraine, and lets up about the time the flu is starting to back off. Sinus infection? Migraine. One time I had a horrible migraine at work (I was working as a nurse) and a friend took me to the hospital because I nearly passed out in our office. When I got to the ER, the doctor looked at my ears and said “You have a rip-roaring’ middle ear infection. You didn’t have any pain?” My response was no pain until the headache set in that afternoon. Keeping sinuses clear is a must so I keep a small ultrasonic humidifier within reach at home, and try to stay hydrated. I’m fortunate that on-half of an Imitrex will do the trick: give me some rest time (with one on my head is even better) and I’m good for about 6 hours. But having migraines does indeed make it hard to know if I’m “sick-sick” or have a migraine, and will be ok in time.

  • Karen Klink
    5 years ago

    I’ve had some success with Benadryl. It calms down the histamines, opens up the sinuses and helps me to sleep through the pain.

  • Star71
    5 years ago

    I am a daily migraine sufferer, so yeah…
    Anytime I have a cold or anything else wrong w/ me I have a migraine on top of it and it just seems to intensify it…
    The migraine that usually lingers daily at between a 3-5 will escalate to a 10+ and I just want to have a lobotomy…
    Honestly, I’d just like one period if it’d mean I could get rid of the migraines for good…
    And having to go into work is the absolute worst…
    I just want to stay in bed most day, curtains drawn and no noise… But w/ no sick days left… Forget it… :0(
    If I’m sick or have I migraine, into work I go…
    It’s so totally not fair…

  • LAnnSmith
    5 years ago

    Ugh, a migraine on top of a head cold is horrible. You’re already coughing and having trouble breathing, then get that too familiar bolt of pain across your eyes. It’s exhausting and I’m already tired and aching.

    I find if I can keep the head congestion under control, then I might not get a migraine. So I use one of those neti pots to flush the sinuses, and that helps a lot. Then I don’t need to take as much decongestant or antihistamine either, so it works better all around.
    Adding this to my routine completely changed my colds, they don’t last as long, and my pain level is lower. Maybe it’s just from having less pressure, I don’t know, but it works and that’s good enough for me. Make sure you wash it out each time.

  • A Alsaker
    5 years ago

    I have migraines almost every day, but when I get sick the headaches go off the charts.

  • Angie
    5 years ago

    I forgot to mention yesterday ( gotta love that brain fog) that I sometimes get nasal congestion and/or nasal drainage, often accompanied by a sore throat due to the drainage prior to a really bad migraine. I always thought it was allergies and then a migraine followed but during a conversation with my neuro I had made some comment about having a really bad migraine during X week but I also had allergy issue that week and I thought that may have made the migraine worse. He told me it was all migraine. The drainage/congestion and resulting sore throat were symptoms of migraine. I must admit, I was not to sure about that one so I tracked it and sure enough, my worse migraines followed those symptoms.

    All that said, I do occasionally get strep and yes, a migraine also follows. But it is not as bad as the ones that follow the symptoms above.

  • chebbot
    5 years ago

    I almost always have congestion in my face and post nasal drip, and always figured it was allergies or I was coming down with something. (I work at a daycare so I’m surrounded by gross)But it’s almost constant, doesn’t matter what season, some days are worse than others. It seems migraines affect every part of your body…Bummer

  • zippy36
    5 years ago

    Yes, Head pain accompanies everything. Sometimes it is hard to know if I am sick or not.

  • CJ
    5 years ago

    The same thing happens to me! If I get a cold or have any kind of sinus pressure, I get a migraine. Same with any eye issues or muscle spasms in my neck or jaw. It is so frustrating!

  • Angie
    5 years ago

    I feel your frustration as I have been there myself all to often.

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