Cough headaches

2021-08-16 01:50 AM

Doctors divide cough headaches into two categories. Brief cough headaches are usually harmless, occur with limited discomfort, and eventually improve on their own.


A cough headache is a type of headache that is triggered by coughing and other types of stress - such as sneezing, blowing your nose, laughing, crying, singing, bending over, or having a bowel movement.

Doctors divide cough headaches into two categories. Brief cough headaches are usually harmless, occur with limited discomfort, and eventually improve on their own. Moderate cough headaches are more severe, as they are caused by structural problems in the brain, which may require surgery to correct.

Cough headaches diagnosisbook


Brief cough headache 

Starts suddenly with and only after coughing or other types of straining.

Most typically a few seconds to a few minutes, some can last up to 30 minutes.

Sharp, needle-like or sporadic pain.

Usually affects both sides of the head and is usually evident in the back of the head.

May be followed by a dull ache for several hours.

Moderate cough headache

A moderate cough headache usually has similar symptoms to a mild headache, although it can last for days instead of minutes. To rule out moderate cough headaches, further testing, such as brain imaging, is needed.

Consult your doctor if you experience a sudden headache after coughing, especially if the headaches are frequent or severe or if there are any other neurological signs or symptoms, such as weight loss. equal or blurred vision or double vision.


Brief cough headache 

The cause of brief cough headaches is not known, although some researchers suspect that increased pressure in the head (intracranial pressure) caused by coughing and other types of stress may play a role.

Moderate cough headache

The cause of a moderate cough headache can almost always be traced to a problem in the back part of the brain or in the skull structure where the brain and spinal cord connect, such as:

Defect in skull shape.

Defect in the configuration of the cerebellum, the result can be that part of the brain is compressed where only the spinal cord is present. Some of these types are called Chiari malformations.

Risk factors

Brief cough headache

The main risk factors for a brief cough headache include:

Age 40 and up.

Sex: man.

Moderate cough headache

Risk factors for moderate cough headaches include:

Younger than 40 years old.

Tests and diagnostics

Your doctor may recommend brain imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). During an MRI, a magnetic field and radio waves are used to create cross-sectional images of the structures inside the head to identify any problems that may be causing a cough headache.

Computed tomography (CT) scan. Use a computer to create cross-sectional images of the brain and head by combining images from x-rays that rotate around the body.

Treatments and drugs

Treatment varies, depending on the severity of the headache.

Brief cough headache

If you have a history of brief cough headaches, your doctor may recommend taking a daily medication to help prevent or relieve pain.

Preventive medications may include:

Indomethacin - an anti-inflammatory drug

Acetazolamide - diuretic that reduces fluid production.

Rarely, a spinal fluid examination may be recommended. With this procedure, the doctor removes some of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. This can help relieve pressure inside the skull that can cause headaches.

Moderate cough headache

If moderate cough headaches are present, surgery is often needed to correct the underlying problem. Prophylaxis usually doesn't work for people with secondary cough headaches. However, response to medication does not mean a headache with a brief cough.


Stopping the actions that cause headaches - whether it's coughing, sneezing or straining to have a bowel movement can help reduce the number of headaches. Some preventive measures may include:

Treat lung infections, such as bronchitis.

Use cough suppressants as needed.

Get a flu shot every year.

Use a stool softener to avoid constipation.

Minimize weight gain.

Related articles:

Cough headaches 

What to know about your cough

Primary cough headache is harmless