It is a common experience that your head hurts when you cough hard1. This is most often seen in people having a cold and dry cough, and the pain in the head may be more on bending over. The complaint such as my head hurting during and after coughing is often caused by increased pressure in the head, chest, and neck following coughing hard1. Such a headache is also known as a cough headache. As there are many factors affecting this condition, it is important to know its causes and remedies to cure it.
In most cases, complaint like “my head hurts during and after coughing” is caused by a benign condition or disease that needs immediate attention. The benign headache that follows a cough often alleviates on its own without treatment, but at times it may persist for a long. It is better to avoid the conditions that trigger coughing. In a few cases increase blood pressure can cause headaches following coughing.2 Such headache is known as reversible encephalopathy syndrome2. Such headaches can be cured by lowering the blood pressure to a normal level, in that case, you must see your primary care physician or visit the nearest ER.
Why Does the Head Hurt on Coughing Hard?
The symptoms like “my head hurts on coughing” is often caused by persistent coughing. If your head hurts when you cough hard, it could be a primary cough headache or a secondary cough headache. Primary coughing headache is induced by coughing only. Symptoms such as “my head hurt on coughing” is more common with causes of primary headache. In primary headaches, there are no abnormalities observed in the brain and surrounding tissue. A complaint like “my head hurts during coughing” is also caused by secondary headaches. Secondary coughing headache is observed in individuals suffering from the disease of the brain or the surrounding soft tissues like blood vessels, nerves, sinuses, and mucosal membranes.3
Primary Cough Headaches
The symptoms such as “my head hurts following coughing” is observed when you cough hard. Such cough-induced complaint of “My head hurt” often results in mild to severe pain (headache) that may last for a few minutes or hours. Primary cough headache is also known as Valsalva-induced headache.4 Such a headache feels like a sharp stabbing headache and spreads mainly to the back of the head. The Valsalva-induced severe headache following coughing is often caused by a sudden increase in intracranial pressure. Occasionally individuals exhale or cough with nostril and mouth close. Such an act known as “Valsalva Maneuver” increases pressure in the mouth, lungs, and middle ear and is often followed by mild to severe headaches. Valsalva maneuver is triggered by coughing, sneezing, forceful bending of the head in any direction, yelling, and weight-lifting. Cough-induced headache is diagnosed as a primary headache when causes of secondary headache are ruled out.
Secondary Cough Headaches
The symptoms like “My head hurt” when last longer and the severity remains the same for a long time then you must consider seeing your primary care physician or visiting the nearest urgent care or ER to rule out secondary headaches. Secondary headache often starts with severe pain and continues as mild to severe pain. Headache may last longer if you keep coughing hard. The symptoms like “my head hurts” should be further investigated if accompanied by dizziness, feeling unsteady, or fainting.
Causes of secondary headache that may cause symptoms like why “my head hurts” after coughing-
- Temporal or giant cell arteritis,
- Brain tumor
- Bleeding inside the skull (intracranial bleeding) resulting in subdural or extradural hematomas,
- Strokes caused by brain ischemia or lack of blood supply to the brain
- Infection of meninges, brain, and cranial nerve.
- Arnold Chiari syndrome
- Brain aneurysm
- CSF (cerebrospinal leak)
Thus, some of the causes of secondary cough headache is very serious and it is advisable to seek a medical opinion if your head hurts when you cough hard5.
Causes of Persistent coughing-
The individual suffering from chronic pain can experience primary or secondary headaches after coughing. It is better to avoid smoking, exposure to dust, exposure to pollens, or extreme temperature that may be inducing symptoms like “Why does my head hurt’.
- Coughing-induced headache associated with neck and chest pain- Coughing hard can cause the muscles in your neck, forehead, chest, and scalp to strain. Persistent coughing can strain muscles and also reduce blood circulation in these tissues, thereby causing your head to hurt when you cough hard. Make sure there is no cervical disc or spinal cord diseases associated with secondary headache.
- Smokers usually cough hard and dry, which often strains their muscles. This is a common cause of headaches when coughing hard. Smokers are also likely to develop chronic bronchitis and hence they may cough frequently and experience cough headaches more often.
- Allergy to mites, dust, and pollen can also irritate the throat and may cause recurrent coughing. Allergic cough can also be a reason to experience headaches.
- Asthmatic patients are also likely to suffer from the strained scalp and neck muscles which can lead to headaches on coughing hard
- Dry cold weather can also cause irritation in the throat and this may lead to a dry cough which may cause your head to hurt.
- Infection and inflammation of the larynx and pharynx often cause a dry cough and straining of the vocal cord. This is also another common condition that can trigger headaches when you cough hard.
Red flag conditions that may be associated with secondary headaches-
One must see a primary care physician immediately if symptoms like “Why my head hurt following coughing” is associated with the following conditions.
- Fever- Fever indicates meningitis (infection of meninges that covers the brain) or encephalitis (brain tissue infection)
- History of brain tumor- Persistent secondary headache following coughing that does not respond to the headache medication should be carefully evaluated with examination and investigations that include CT scan and X-ray skull.
- Cervical spinal cord injury- Secondary headache after coughing associated with pain over the back of the neck as well as upper arm should be further evaluated for spinal cord and vertebral column injuries. Physicians should evaluate the detailed history of falls, work accidents, and automobile accidents that may have caused neck and head injuries.
- Post-traumatic headache- Post-traumatic cough-induced headache is observed in an individual who has a history of trauma following a work injury, car accident, or domestic fall
- Elderly patient- The symptoms like “Why my head hurts following coughing” should consider as possible serious conditions in elderly patients. In the elderly such symptoms can be associated with diseases like brain tumors, encephalitis, meningitis, intracranial hemorrhage, and cerebral aneurysm.
- Blurring vision- Unilateral or bilateral blurring vision is caused by Papilledema of one or both eyes. Papilledema is a condition that results in swelling of the back of the eye known as an optic disc. Such a condition is observed in patients suffering from a brain tumor.
- Pregnancy- Pregnant individuals may complain during the second and third trimesters “Why my head hurts following coughing”. In such cases, you must see a gynecologist or primary care physician to rule out tension or migraine headache.6
- Opioid addiction- Few individuals may suffer from severe headaches following coughing during the withdrawal period from opioid abstinence. Continuous use of opioids for chronic pain induces headaches.7
What are the Remedies to Cure Headaches on Coughing Hard?
Treatment for Headache on Coughing Hard
Further evaluation and treatment are essential if you experiencing symptoms like “Why my head hurts following coughing” that do not respond to over-the-counter headache medications like Tylenol or Motrin. Appropriate treatment can be initiated after the underlying cause is known. Doctors will follow diverse treatment approaches depending on the type of headache and underlying causes.
- Treatment for Primary Cough Headache – Occasionally symptoms like “Why my head hurt following coughing” is caused by primary headache. Such a condition is treated with over-the-counter pain medications like Tylenol and Ibuprofen. The drugs prescribed for primary causes of “Why my head hurt following coughing”, also treats causes of secondary headache caused by inflammatory diseases like meningitis, arthritis, and encephalitis.
- Treatment for Secondary Cough Headache – The treatment of secondary headache of symptoms “Why my head hurt following coughing” is divided into two segments. First, treat the pain with headache medications, and second treat the cause that induces the secondary headaches. Treatment options depend on diseases that cause secondary headaches.
Home Remedies to Cure Headache on Coughing Hard
Some of the home remedies to cure the symptoms of “Why my head hurt following coughing” include the following choices:
- Garlic & Grapes: Consuming garlic and grapes in large quantities daily can be an effective home remedy to alleviate cough headaches and their related symptoms.
- Grape Juice & Raw Honey: You can prepare grape juice mixed with raw honey which is quite an effective home remedy for treating dry cough. You can also mix pepper powder and honey with water and drink the mixture to alleviate coughing and cure your head from hurting when you cough hard.
- Lemon: Take a lemon, cut it in half, cover it with black pepper and salt and suck the lemon to decrease the urge for coughing. It can also help to prevent and cure the pain in the head when you cough hard.
- Salt Water Gargles: Sore throat can be treated by gargling with lukewarm salt water which can control cough and also stop your head from hurting when you cough hard.
- Headache associated with cough: a review Ann Cordenier,1, Willem De Hertogh,2 Jacques De Keyser,1,3 and Jan Versijpt 1,4, J Headache Pain. 2013; 14(1): 42. Published online 2013 May 20.doi: 10.1186/1129-2377-14-
42, PMCID:PMC3671207, PMID: 23687906
- Cough headache as a presenting feature of posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES) Boby Varkey Maramattom, lead consultant neurologistA , Clin Med (Lond). 2021 Mar; 21(2): e237–e238.doi: 10.7861/
- Common Primary and Secondary Causes of Headache in the Elderly, Headache, 2018 Mar;58(3):479-484., doi: 10.1111/head.13252.Epub 2018 Jan 11. Tara L Sharma 1 PMID: 2932249
- Primary Cough Headache Disorder Responds to Low Volume Therapeutic Lumbar Puncture: A Case Report With a Side Note on Therapeutics and Cranio-Spinal Dissociation, Monitoring Editor: Alexander Muacevic and John R Adler. Cureus. 2020 Sep; 12(9): e10262. Published online 2020 Sep 5.doi: 10.7759/cureus.10262
- Red and orange flags for secondary headaches in clinical practice: SNNOOP10 list Thien Phu Do 1, Angelique Remmers 1, Henrik Winther Schytz 1, Christoph Schankin 1, Sarah E Nelson 1, Mark Obermann 1, Jakob Møller Hansen 1, Alexandra J Sinclair 1, Andreas R Gantenbein 1, Guus G Schoonman 2 Neurology 2019 Jan 15;92(3):134-144.
- Migraine and other headache disorders in pregnancy, Daphne S van Casteren, , , Handb Clin Neurol. 2020;172:187-199. PMID:32768088
- Medication-overuse headache and opioid-induced hyperalgesia: A review of mechanisms, a neuroimmune hypothesis and a novel approach to treatment Jacinta L Johnson, , , Cephalalgia, . 2013 Jan;33(1):52-64. doi: 10.1177/0333102412467512. Epub 2012 Nov 9.
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