Photo/Illutration Commuters wearing face masks head for their workplaces in October 2020. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

For many people, the daily routine of donning a face mask as protection against COVID-19 quite literally has become a headache after all this time.

Typically, headache symptoms develop when people with facial coverings work for hours on end while seated for prolonged periods, especially if they are at home.

The headache department of Tokyo Women's Medical University Hospital in the capital’s Shinjuku Ward said it is flooded with outpatients complaining they “cannot live in a relaxed manner” due to their facial coverings.

“The symptom is a sign of excessive sensitivity of sensory nerves,” said Toshihiko Shimizu, a visiting professor of neurosurgery at the medical center.

Left untreated, he said the stressful situation has the potential to trigger serious migraine attacks “so patients must remain alert.”

Hemicrania patients are estimated to account for 10 percent of people aged 15 or older. Shimizu explained that in such cases the trigeminal nerves in the face and head tend to be more sensitive than those of healthy individuals.


Health experts offer the following tips:

Wearing facial protection is thought to stimulate the skin, which in turn excites the brain, leading to migraine.

Keeping facial coverings moist is one precaution that can be taken to prevent headaches as doing this stops the throat from going dry. This is because a dry throat can stimulant trigeminal nerves in the mouth.

When people return home and remove their face masks, they are advised to remain alert. Migraine attacks occur more frequently when patients are relaxed because blood vessels in the brain become dilated.

Even those free from chronic migraine could experience headaches if they use fine surgical masks made of nonwoven fabric for prolonged periods. The practice renders breathing difficult, increasing the carbon dioxide level in the blood and expanding cerebral vessels.

To prevent these symptoms, Shimizu advised people to “suck on candy with glucose when using masks.” Glucose is known to help blood vessels in the brain to contract.

Coffee, tea and other beverages rich in caffeine also are effective when consumed with a small amount of glucose, or sugar, as caffeine promotes the contraction of cerebral blood vessels.

In addition, experts recommend that patients try breathing in deeply after removing their masks if they find themselves in a situation where protection against COVID-19 is unnecessary, such as being at home.

Problems with nerves are not the only element connected to headaches. Working long hours in the same posture at home tends to render muscles tense and bring about a disorder called tension headache.

The condition can be eased by loosening muscles in the back.