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Why Does My Head Hurt When I Cough?

Updated: Mar 7

My Head Hurt When I Cough.

Coughing helps clear airways. But did you ever feel your head hurt when you cough? This article explains why that happens and talks about different cough headaches, their symptoms, and how to treat them.

What Causes a Cough Headache?

Cough headaches happen due to various reasons. These factors add up to the pain you feel in your head when you cough:

Increased Intracranial Pressure

One main reason for cough headaches is the pressure buildup in your head when you cough. The strong squeezing of your stomach and chest muscles, along with closing your throat, raises the pressure inside your skull. This extra pressure can cause pain, especially in people prone to it.

Dilated Blood Vessels

When you cough a lot, blood vessels in your head can widen. This expansion can activate pain sensors, adding to the headache you feel during a coughing spell.

Sinus Congestion

If your sinuses are already congested, coughing can make it worse. The extra pressure from coughing can make your sinuses more congested, causing a headache. Knowing how sinus problems relate to cough headaches is important for managing them well.

Tension and Strain

Tension headaches, linked to stress, can get worse when you cough. The effort of coughing can make the muscles in your head and neck tighter, making the headache worse.

Types of Cough Headaches

Primary Cough Headaches

Primary cough headaches are usually harmless and not linked to other health problems. They don't last long and happen because of extra pressure in your head when you cough. The pain is often sudden and sharp, felt at the back of your head or all over.

Symptoms of a Primary Cough Headache

1. Sudden Onset: Primary cough headaches come on suddenly when you cough. The pain is sudden and strong, surprising people.

2. Location of Pain: The pain from a primary cough headache is usually at the back of the head, near the bottom. But some people might feel the headache all over.

3. Short Duration: These headaches don't last long, only a few seconds to a couple of minutes. The pain goes away soon after you finish coughing.

4. Explosive Sensation: People often say the pain feels like an explosion or a sharp stab, showing how sudden and intense the headache is.

5. Moderate to Severe Intensity: The pain can be really strong, making coughing uncomfortable, but it goes away quickly after.

6. Absence of Neurological Symptoms: Most of the time, primary cough headaches don't come with other problems such as feeling dizzy, sick, or having problems with eyesight, which can happen to other types of cough headaches.

Secondary Cough Headaches

Secondary cough headaches could be a sign of other health problems. These might be issues with the brain's structure, tumors, or other things causing high pressure inside the head. It's important to find and treat the main problem to deal with secondary cough headaches well.

Symptoms of a Secondary Cough Headache

1. Prolonged Duration: Secondary cough headaches may last longer than primary ones. They can last for minutes to hours even after the coughing stops. This type of cough lasting longer is a big difference between the two types.

2. Linked Neurological Symptoms: Those with secondary cough headaches may have other symptoms such as feeling dizzy, sick, throwing up, or seeing changes in their vision. These signs mean that there's more pressure in their head.

3. Getting Worse: Secondary headaches can get worse over time. They might happen more often or feel stronger when you keep coughing.

4. Starts Slowly: The pain linked with secondary cough headaches may start suddenly, but for some people, the symptoms might come on more slowly.

5. Need Medical Check-Up: Doctors may need to do thorough checks to diagnose secondary cough headaches. They might use imaging tests like CT scans or MRIs to find any problems in the brain's structure.

How Can Cough Headaches Be Treated?

Cough headaches, whether primary or secondary, can be annoying. But, there are treatments to help ease the symptoms and make life better for those who have these headaches.

Medical Intervention

1. Over-the-Counter Medicines: For mild to moderate cough headaches, you can try over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. They can help reduce pain and swelling caused by coughing. But it is best to talk to a doctor before using these medicines all the time.

2. Prescription Drugs: In cases where over-the-counter meds don't work, your doctor may give you special drugs to help with headaches. These can treat pain, swelling, or other reasons for cough headaches.

3. Expert Assessment: Bad cough headaches need careful check-ups by doctors. They might use scans like CT scans or MRIs to find any brain problems causing secondary cough headaches. Treatment depends on what's causing the headaches, found through these checks.

Home Remedies for Cough Headaches

1. Hydration: Drinking enough water helps stop cough headaches. It keeps your blood flowing right and lowers the chance of headaches caused by dehydration.

2. Warm Compress or Cold Pack: Try putting a warm cloth or cold pack on your forehead or neck when you cough. See which one helps you feel better.

3. Relaxation Techniques: Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or relaxing your muscles. They can help ease tension headaches caused by coughing and reduce overall stress.

4. Avoiding Triggers: Find and avoid things that might cause cough headaches, such as stuff in your environment or certain foods. Writing down what might trigger your headaches could help you figure it out.

Can You Prevent Cough Headaches?

1. Lifestyle Adjustments: Staying healthy can stop cough headaches. Exercise often, eat well, and get enough sleep. It helps you feel good and lowers the chance of headaches.

2. Hygiene Practices: Wash your hands often and stay away from sick people to avoid getting coughs that might cause headaches.

3. Respiratory Health Management: Taking care of your breathing problems such as allergies or sinus issues can help you avoid cough headaches. Medicine or other treatments can help you stop these headaches caused by coughing.

When to See a Doctor

Most cough headaches are harmless and can be managed at home with lifestyle adjustments or medicine. But sometimes, it's important to see a doctor. Knowing when to get help is important for getting the right treatment for cough headaches.

  • Persistent or Worsening Headaches: If your headaches get worse or stick around during coughing, it's a sign to see a doctor. Chronic or worsening pain could mean something's wrong.

  • Neurological Symptoms: If you feel dizzy, sick, or have vision changes during coughing, see a doctor right away. It could be a sign of pressure in your head.

  • Sudden and Severe Headaches: If you get sudden and severe headaches when you cough that's not normal, see a doctor right away. You need careful checking to find out what's wrong.

  • Headaches with Other Concerning Symptoms: If your cough headaches come with fever, constant coughing, or losing weight without reason, you need to see a doctor. These signs can help doctors figure out what's wrong.

  • New Onset of Headaches: If you've never had cough headaches before and now you do, it's advisable to see a doctor. New headaches might need checking to find out their causes.

Are cough headaches bothering you? Center One Medical is here to help you. Our team can check you thoroughly, make a plan just for you, and keep helping you feel better. Don't let cough headaches ruin your well-being. Contact us and book an appointment today.


In conclusion, a headache when you cough might not just be a bother; it could mean there's something else going on in your body. By knowing the types, symptoms, and treatments, you can take steps to deal with cough headaches and feel better.


1. Can a headache when coughing be a sign of a serious medical condition?

  • Most times, headaches when you cough are tolerable, but if they stick around or get bad, you need to see a doctor.

2. Are there specific cough medications that can help prevent headaches?

  • Some cough medicines may contribute to dehydration, which could cause headaches. Drink enough water and speak with a doctor for better options.

3. Can stress really cause headaches when coughing?

  • Yes, stress and tension can make headaches worse, even those from coughing. Trying relaxation techniques might help you feel better.

4. Is there a link between respiratory conditions and cough-induced headaches?

  • Some respiratory conditions can make cough headaches worse. Taking care of these conditions is needed to prevent headaches.

5. How long should I wait before seeking medical attention for cough-induced headaches?

  • If your headaches don't go away, get worse, or come with other symptoms, you need to see a doctor right away.

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