head hurts when I cough

Why does my head hurt when I cough – Cough Headaches

Coughing can put pressure on you leading to a painful headache. Most of the time, a cough-related headache will go on its own so there is nothing to be worried about. Other times too it can be a sign of something serious. 

But in the first place, why does your head hurt when you cough? Well, there are many factors that can cause your head to hurt when you cough. Headache can be triggered by coughing in addition to other types of straining activities such as sneezing, blowing your nose, bending over, or having a bowel movement.

Continue reading to find out more about why your head hurts when you cough.

Cough headache

This is an unusual type of headache that is caused by coughing and other types of straining activities such as sneezing, blowing your nose, laughing, crying, singing, bending over, or having a bowel movement. There are 2 types of cough headaches that doctors call primary and secondary cough headaches.

What causes your head to hurt or ache when you cough?

The causes of headache when you cough depend on the type of cough headache (which are primary and secondary cough headaches). These types of cough headaches will be explained below.

Primary cough headache

A primary cough headache is mostly caused due to a sudden pressure in the abdomen which can cause cough. This may lead to an increase in pressure occurring in the head, causing headaches.

Other factors like laughing, sneezing, bowel movements, intense exertion, and straining of the abdomen can all cause a primary cough headache. A primary cough headache does not have any link to any disorder of the brain or other health conditions.

Additional symptoms like experiencing several minutes of pain, sharp stabbing pain can also be experienced with a primary cough headache.

Secondary cough headache

A secondary cough headache is caused due to an underlying health condition such as a brain disorder. Secondary cough headaches often have symptoms similar to those of primary cough headaches.

Symptoms of secondary cough include numbness in the face or arms, fainting, dizziness, longer-lasting headaches

Secondary headaches can indicate a more serious, underlying condition. These include:

Chiari malformation

 A Chiari malformation is a structural defect caused by a misshapen or too-small skull, or a defect in the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for the balance. Chiari malformations can form before birth during fetal development. They can also occur later in life as the result of an injury, infection, or disease.

Brain tumour

 Brain tumors are masses of abnormal cells found in or near the brain. They can be benign or malignant.

Cerebral (brain) aneurysm.

A brain aneurysm is a bulge or weakness in a blood vessel in the brain. These bulges sometimes rupture, becoming life-threatening very quickly.

Changes in the pressure in the cerebrospinal fluid. An increase or decrease in pressure can cause headaches.

Risk factors for cough headaches (What predisposes you to get headaches when you cough)

Let’s classify the risk factors into the major types of cough headaches.

Primary cough headache  

The factors that influence the likelihood of you having your headache when you cough if your headache falls under the primary cough headaches include:


Age also has been found to be a risk factor for developing primary cough headaches. Once one age, the chances of suffering cough headaches or having your head ache after or during a cough is high. Primary cough headaches most often affect people older than age 40.


The male gender is considered to be at a higher risk of getting primary cough headaches than the female gender. Therefore, the likelihood of you having such headaches increases if you are a male.

Secondary cough headaches

When you look at secondary cough headaches, a number of things can cause it so the risk factors can indirectly be considered to be all the risk factors for the conditions that can cause secondary cough headaches as talked about earlier.

A particular risk factor that has been established is age. Secondary cough headaches are more likely to occur in people younger than 40 years.

Is there any treatment for these types of headaches?

Primary cough headaches

Certain medications may help reduce primary cough headaches. Some of which include

  • Prescription steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation and lessen coughing
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Medications that relax blood vessels in the brain
  • Diuretics that reduce the amount of spinal fluid and pressure within the skull

Secondary cough headaches

Treatment for secondary cough headache is based upon diagnosis.

If you have a Chiari malformation, you may need surgery to create more space for the cerebellum and reduce pressure on the brain.

If you have a brain tumor, the type of tumor you have will determine your treatment. This may include:

  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery
  • A combination of the treatments mentioned above

If you have a brain aneurysm, you may require surgery, endovascular interventions, or a stent-like implant called a flow-diverter.

If you have a cerebrospinal fluid leak, you will need immediate surgery to fix or treat it.

Home remedies to treat cough headaches

Reducing or eliminating your cough or other straining behaviors can help reduce primary cough headaches.

Preventing colds and other infections can reduce your risk of developing nasal congestion, a cough, or a sneeze. Here are some prevention tips:

  • Get a flu shot once a year.
  • Wash your hands often, especially if you’ve been in crowded areas like a shopping mall, or use public transportation.
  • Limit your exposure to people with a cold or the flu, when possible.
  • If you’re 65 or older, get a pneumonia vaccine.

If you do develop a cold or the flu, take steps to help yourself recover:

  • Drink warm beverages, such as chicken soup and herbal tea.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Use over-the-counter cough suppressants or decongestants.
  • Breathe in steam.
  • Use a neti pot.
  • Use a vaporizer.
  • Suck on cough drops.
  • Get plenty of rest (this is very important)

if straining during bowel movements is part of the cause, using laxatives or stool softeners may help. You may also want to avoid lifting heavy things, which place a strain on your abdomen.

Secondary cough headaches may respond temporarily to at-home treatments, but their root cause must be addressed to eliminate the problem.

How to prevent cough headaches

Preventing the actions that trigger your cough headaches, whether that is coughing, sneezing, or straining on the toilet, may help reduce the number of headaches you experience. Some preventive measures may include:

  • Treating lung infections, such as bronchitis
  • Avoiding medications that cause coughing as a side effect
  • Getting an annual flu shot
  • Using stool softeners to avoid constipation
  • Minimizing heavy lifting or bending for long periods

The takeaway from this article 

It is possible to have headaches caused by coughing but they are not common. In some cases, they may indicate an underlying medical condition. That’s why it is necessary to talk to your doctor if you frequently experience headaches brought on by coughing, especially if they last for two or more hours, or are extremely painful.

So, if you asked yourself the question “why does my head hurt when I cough”, then here you have your answer. It could be as a result of an underlying condition or just from the force you are using to cough.


Michael Sarfo
Content Creator at Wapomu

Michael Sarfo is a graduate of the University of Ghana, Legon. He is a content creator for enochkabange.com and a writer for Wapomu

Dr. Ehoneah Obed is a registered pharmacist and a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana. He has a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and has experience working in a Tertiary hospital as well as various community pharmacies. He is also a software engineer interested in healthcare technologies.

His love for helping others motivates him to create content on an array of topics mostly relating to the health of people and also software engineering content.

He is knowledgeable in digital marketing, content marketing, and a host of other skills that make him versatile enough to uplift any team he joins.

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