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Headache when coughing: causes, symptoms and treatment

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

Headaches are one of the most common conditions. Everyone has suffered at one time or another, and this is because they can be due to many different causes. From a medical point of view, headaches can be classified into two types: primary and secondary. The primary ones are the most frequent, usually harmless, and most common, while the secondary ones are due to underlying diseases and can be more serious.

The headache when coughing can be due to either of the two cases, within which there are many more causes; that is why in the following FastlyHealarticle, we are going to detail which are the most common, how to diagnose and some of the most used treatments for it to remit. Keep reading headache when coughing: causes and find out.

Headache when coughing: causes

Primary toxigenic headache

As its name suggests, a primary cough headache is a headache triggered by coughing. However, this type of headache can also appear with other actions such as defecation, laughing, sneezing, or lifting weights.

It usually appears suddenly after coughing and can be located in different head areas. The pain is sharp and stabbing and usually passes after a short time. Once this acute pain has passed, one can remain dull and mild for some time longer.

This is generally a benign condition. However, this does not mean that there cannot be a severe condition that runs in parallel with similar symptoms. Below you can read some of the other cough headaches.


Sinusitis is an infection of the sinuses located inside the nose, behind the eyebrows, and cheeks, caused by a buildup of mucus that causes tension and pain in the area.

This pressure in the head causes that when we cough, a headache may appear or the one we already have intensified.


Asthma is another disease that can lead to headaches and coughing, especially when the cough is dry. Headache and dry cough are closely related since this repetitive cough can cause intracranial pressure that causes headache and that, once the crisis is over, usually disappears.

Secondary headaches

So far, we have talked about diseases and conditions that, although annoying, with proper treatment, should not go beyond mild. However, coughing headaches can be caused by more dangerous underlying conditions. Some of the causes of these cough headaches can be:

  • Malformations in the skull.
  • Problems in the cerebellum.
  • Brain aneurysm.
  • Brain tumors.
  • Loss of cerebrospinal fluid.

Headache symptoms when I cough

When the headache when coughing is of primary origin, the most common symptoms that are usually manifested are the following:

  • They usually start suddenly with or after coughing.
  • It usually lasts a short time, between a few seconds and a few minutes, although it can take a couple of hours in some cases.
  • The pain it produces is very intense, stabbing, and sharp.
  • They tend to affect both sides of the head and hurt more in the back area.
  • It may be accompanied by a dull ache that lasts for a few hours.

When this headache when coughing is secondary, that is, it is another symptom of an underlying disease, it usually has similar symptoms, but others can also be added, such as:

  • The headache may last longer.
  • Dizziness appears.
  • Vertigo or instability.
  • Fainting.
  • Double vision or blurred vision.

Headache when coughing or sneezing: diagnosis

If you have a headache after coughing, especially when these pains are frequent or very intense, or you have any other symptoms that we have just mentioned, you should see a doctor so that a good diagnosis can be made and in case of a disease that requires treatment to do so immediately.

This diagnosis will be based on your medical history and the answers that you can give to the questions that you will be asked. In addition, the professional may want to perform tests to have more precise information. These tests include computerized tomography or magnetic resonance imaging.

Risk factors must also be taken into account, and personal elements that can guide the doctor in his diagnosis:

  • Age: these pains tend to affect people over 40 years of age more frequently.
  • Sex: Primary headaches are more common in men than in women.
  • If you suffer from diseases such as asthma or sinusitis.

Treatment for headache while coughing

Depending on the cause of your headache when you cough, the treatments to cure it will be different. Next, we will explain which is the most indicated treatment depending on whether the headache is primary or secondary. On the other hand, it should be clarified that any of these treatments must be accompanied and indicated by a specialist doctor:

Primary cough headache

If you have suffered other times from headaches when you cough, and there is no serious cause, there is medication to relieve that pain. Some of the most used drugs are:

  • Indomethacin: an anti-inflammatory drug.
  • Propranolol: a drug that causes the relaxation of blood vessels, lowering blood pressure.
  • Acetazolamide: a diuretic that lowers the amount of cerebrospinal fluid, lowering intracranial pressure.

In a few cases, it may be necessary to do a spinal tap from which fluid is extracted from the spinal cord and brain and, in this way, lower intracranial pressure.

Secondary cough headaches

If, after the medical diagnosis, the result is that the origin of the headache is due to an underlying disease, in general, the most indicated is to operate to eliminate the underlying problem. There are no medications to fix these conditions in many cases, so only surgery can correct them.

Prevent a headache from coughing

If you usually suffer from coughing headaches and it is not due to any urgent treatment condition, avoiding coughing is an excellent option to prevent them. As obvious as it may seem, prevention is essential, and we have specific measures to reduce headaches. Here are some preventative measures you can take:

  • Conveniently treat respiratory conditions such as pharyngitis or bronchitis.
  • Don’t take medications that list coughing as one of their side effects.
  • It would help if you got vaccinated annually against the flu or influenza.
  • If you also have a headache, defecate or lift the weight; eat food to prevent constipation and avoid straining.

This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Coughing Headache: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment , we recommend that you enter our Brain and Nerves category .

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