Why Does My Head Hurt When I Cough? Treatment Options

Head hurts when I cough

‘My head hurts when I cough’ is probably the most heard-of complaint during times of sickness. A headache is common, perhaps the most frustrating side effect of common cold or a cough.

Usually sneezing, coughing, blowing your nose or bending your head for even the smallest of activities causes pangs of a headache.

My head hurts when I cough, what may be the reason? It is due to the pressure exerted on the organs such as the chest, head or neck while coughing.

A cough may cause primary or secondary headaches. Harmless in nature, primary headaches occur in episodes and usually go away on their own.

Secondary headaches, however, need more attention and may cause severe brain issues if left untreated for a long time.

Also Read: Pressure Points for Headaches and Migraine Pain Relief

Why Does My Head Hurt When I Cough?

Wondering why does my head hurt when I cough? The reason for this type of headache may differ in case of primary and secondary headaches.

Headache when I cough

Primary Headaches

If your head hurts when you cough, it may be a primary headache, which is also called a paroxysm (the exact cause of which is still unknown).

Paroxysm is a sudden painful shot that lasts for less than a second and alleviates on its own. This painful shot could result from a sudden increase in the intracranial pressure (this occurs as your body’s reaction to coughing). Primary headaches may be mild or may cause a sharp pain in the back of your head.

Secondary Headaches

Now that you know the pressure in the head while coughing can cause severe headaches, keep in mind that it can be a beginning of a more serious condition called a secondary headache.

Bur, what are secondary cough headaches? The type of a long-lasting headache that causes dizziness is a secondary headache.

This condition occurs in childhood or early adulthood, and so, is discoverable at a younger age. Brain abnormalities are to blame for such headaches.

Some causes of secondary headaches are:

  • Vertebrobasilar Disease: This disease affects the flow of blood and other nutrients in the arterial system in the back of the brain.
  • Paget’s disease of the skull: Sometimes a broken bone in the brain redevelops faster than usual, and this may cause shooting pain in the head while coughing or even otherwise.
  • Basilar Impression: People often say, “My head hurts when I cough or bend over,” but sometimes a headache lasts even after the cold and cough are over. A headache can prolong in case of defects in the cerebellum. Basilar Impressions are skeletal malformations which cause prolonged headaches.
  • Subdural Hematoma: A possible reason for a common question – why my head hurts when I cough – is the subdural hematoma. It is a condition in which blood gets collected inside the brain after a severe head injury.

Some other conditions that can cause shooting pain in the head while coughing include:

  • Leakage of the cerebrospinal fluid
  • Weakening of the walls of blood vessels in the brain

Related Reading: What Causes Headache above Right Eye?

Head Hurts When I Cough: Symptoms of Headache After Cough

Head hurts when I cough

Headaches may happen due to head injuries, migraines, gastric issues, heat strokes or a variety of other reasons. What are the other symptoms that make your head hurt while coughing? Let’s see.

Symptoms of a Primary Headache

  • Primary cough headaches begin with and after coughing or other strenuous activities like sneezing.
  • This shooting pain in the head when you cough may last for a few seconds or a few minutes.
  • Such headaches cause a sharp, shooting pain. You may experience pain on both sides of the head or on the back of the head.
  • The pain may fade away, but you may have a dull ache for a couple hours.

Symptoms of a Secondary Headache

Most symptoms of secondary headaches are similar to those of primary headaches. However, one may also experience other symptoms like:

  • Secondary headaches last for longer than usual. They don’t go away on their own.
  • You may feel unsteady and find it difficult to stand or walk straight while.
  • Fainting is also an extreme symptom of a secondary headache.

Head Hurts When I Cough: Treatment Options

Traditional Medicines for Primary and Secondary Cough Headaches

A primary cough headache treatment includes medications that can help you minimize the pain. These medicines usually treat the underlying causes such as a cough.

Following are the traditional medicines your doctor may prescribe for primary headaches:

  • Indomethacin (Indocin, Tivorbex): This helps in reducing inflammation, thus providing relief from a headache.
  • Propranolol (Inderal, Innopran XL): This is a medication that relaxes blood vessels and keeps the blood pressure in check.
  • Acetazolamide (Diamox): This is a diuretic that aims to reduce spinal fluid which creates pressure inside the skull.

Other medicines used to treat a primary cough headache are:

  • Methysergide
  • Naproxen
  • Ergonovine
  • Intravenous dihydroergotamine
  • and Phenelzine

But, what are secondary headache treatments?

You can treat a secondary headache by addressing the underlying causes. Medications, and in some cases, surgery is recommended for secondary headaches.

Doctors may prescribe lumbar puncture to remove some of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. This helps in reducing the pressure inside the skull, and offer relief to cough headaches.

Head Hurts When I Cough: Home Remedies to Try

Wondering what to do when my head hurts when I cough? Some home remedies can help you treat and prevent these headaches. Let’s see.

1. Lemon, Salt and Black Pepper

Cut a lemon in half and store one half for later use. Cover the other half of the lemon with salt and black pepper.

Keep it as it is for a little while, let the pepper and salt get absorbed into the lemon. After a while, suck on the lemon. This remedy is useful in cough treatment, but this treatment might be spicy – be careful.

Related Reading: Cough That Won’t Go Away

2. Water

Water clears mucus from the throat, and thus, helps relieve symptoms of a cough. It also helps in relieving dryness from your throat which reduces the itchiness in return.

Another way in which you could use water as a remedy is by gargling salt water. Lukewarm salt water controls cough during a sore throat, and you’re sure to get rid of the “head hurts when I cough” complaint.

3. Tea

Tea can also help in clearing mucus from the throat. Mint tea with honey is an excellent primary cough headache treatment since it has antimicrobial and antioxidant benefits.

4. Honey and Grape Juice

Another of those “head hurts when I cough” treatments is a drink prepared by mixing grape juice and raw honey.

Mixing pepper powder and honey with water helps heal cough, which, in turn, helps alleviate pressure in the head while coughing.

Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of honey help in soothing the throat.

5. Garlic and Grapes

Consumption of garlic and grapes in large quantities can be useful in alleviating cough headache and its related symptoms.

Related Reading: How to Treat An Uncontrollable Cough

Head Hurts When I Cough: Prevention Tips

It’s always better to prevent things that cause headaches to avoid a headache when you cough. In other words, avoid actions like sneezing or coughing.

“When I cough my heard hurts on the right side” is also a common concern. So, to prevent these types of headaches, you will need to treat cough.

Wondering “why does my head hurts when I cough?” Here are some preventive tips you could follow:

  • Don’t ignore the possibilities of lung infections such as bronchitis in case of a constant cough.
  • Consult a doctor and follow the suggested treatment.
  • Some medicines, especially the sour ones, may cause coughing. It is best to avoid such medication or get alternative medicines after consulting with your doctor.
  • Getting an annual flu shot would also help to avoid flu infections or diseases that come with the changing weather.
  • Avoid heavy lifting or bending.
  • If passing the stool is a strenuous activity for you due to constipation, it will help if you take stool softeners.
  • If you are suffering from chronic headaches, you must avoid consumption of alcohol, soda, and other sugary or carbonated beverages.
  • Skipping meals is not a good option, especially cough headaches. You must get some food in your system to make sure your body does not suffer from lack of nutrients.

“My head hurts when I cough” is a common concern during cold, cough and congestion. With the above-mentioned home remedies and prevention tips, you can easily get rid of these types of headaches.

Read Next:

“Cough headaches,” Mayo Clinic web site; https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/primary-cough-headaches/symptoms-causes/syc-20371200, last accessed Jan 22, 2018
Ann Cordenier, Willem De Hertogh, Jacques De Keyser, Jan Versijpt, “Headache associated with cough: a review,” 2013; 14(1): 42, doi: 10.1186/1129-2377-14-42.

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Dr. Mark Williams, MD

Dr. Mark Williams is a leader in alternative and integrated medicines. He is a medical writer and reviewer at Daily Health Cures. He received his medical degree in 1988. Mark brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Daily Health Cures editorial team. He is a natural health advisor and provides a variety of alternative healing techniques in his practice.