Why Does My Head Hurt When I Cough?

Mar 7, 2022

Why Does My Head Hurt When I CoughHave you ever been coughing so much that you ended up with a headache too? Sometimes when you are coughing, it can put a lot of pressure on your head and result in headaches on top of your sore, aching throat. If you are searching for “why my head hurts when I cough,” then there could be a number of reasons. In addition to the common cold or flu, you could be dealing with allergies or a more serious issue. There are so many types of headaches and migraines that each have slight variations of symptoms and causes. If you get a headache when coughing, then you are likely dealing with a cough headache. Here is everything you need to know about cough headaches, including causes, types, symptoms, remedies, and treatment options.

What Causes a Headache When Coughing

Here are five examples of what can cause a headache from coughing.

Cold or Flu

A cold or the flu are two common illnesses that can lead to a lot of coughing. The common cold is typically a mild respiratory illness that can cause a sore throat, cough, runny nose, and congestion. The flu is a more serious virus that can cause moderate to severe symptoms, including high fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, cough, and nasal symptoms.


Seasonal allergies can also cause people with allergies to cough. While most people think of sneezing and a runny or stuffy nose with allergies, you can also develop a cough. When your sinuses are swollen due to allergies, it can affect normal drainage and lead to a buildup of pressure. Coughing and headaches are surprisingly common symptoms for allergy sufferers.

Heavy Exertion

Heavy exertion with physical activity or straining certain muscles can also cause a headache. When you have a cough that lasts for days at a time, it can cause you to strain your neck and other muscles. Coughing forcefully, whether due to a cold, flu, or other reason, can put a lot of pressure on your head and cause a headache, too.

Brain Disorder

An issue inside your brain can also cause symptoms like a headache when coughing. A brain aneurysm, also known as a cerebral aneurysm, refers to a bulging or weakened blood vessel in the brain. If this blood vessel ruptures, it can actually become life-threatening. A structural defect of the skull, known as a Chiari malformation, can also cause malformation or issue with the part of the brain that is responsible for things like balance. Issues with cerebrospinal fluid can also lead to headaches.

Brain Tumor

A brain tumor can be cancerous, known as a malignant brain tumor, can spread rapidly and into other parts of the body. A benign brain tumor is a non-cancerous tumor that can grow larger inside the brain but does not spread to other parts of the body. Some brain tumors can cause headaches that can get worse with certain movements or bodily functions like coughing. A cough headache can also be a sign of a brain tumor.

Primary vs. Secondary Cough Headaches

Two types of cough headaches can occur due to sudden pressure in your chest and abdomen: primary and secondary cough headaches. A primary cough headache is the most common of the two and is typically not serious. Most primary cough headaches occur while you are coughing or immediately after. Headaches caused by coughing typically cause pain and discomfort on both sides of the head. This pain can last for a few seconds or a few minutes at a time. A secondary cough headache typically has more symptoms than a primary cough headache. Additionally, a secondary cough headache can indicate a more serious condition of the head, including issues with the brain. Both primary and secondary cough headaches can occur from common movements and bodily responses like sneezing, laughing, bending over, or even straining during a bowel movement. Sinus issues like congestion can also cause strong coughs that increase your risk of cough headaches.

Symptoms of Cough Headaches

Cough headaches can cause a sudden pain in your head that lasts for seconds to minutes at a time after coughing. When you have a frequent cough due to the cold, flu, or another issue, you may experience continued headache pain. The initial pain might feel like a sharp or stabbing pain, followed by a dull achiness that may continue for a few hours after the initial coughing fit. Secondary cough headaches can also cause other, more aggressive symptoms. This typically includes a headache that can last for days at a time. A secondary cough can also cause you to feel unsteady on your feet or experience difficulty with your balance. You may also have dizziness or fainting.

When to See a Doctor for Headaches from Coughing

If you suspect you have a cold or the flu, then your doctor can provide you with a diagnosis and the appropriate medications to help with your symptoms. Both the common cold and the flu are viruses, so they cannot be treated with medication like a bacterial infection. However, some medications can help reduce your coughing and any inflammation that is making your symptoms worse. If you do not have a cold, flu, or other more obvious cause like allergies, then you might be very concerned about headaches when coughing. Talk to your doctor if you have started noticing cough headaches that are new and painful.

If you have any of the other symptoms that accompany secondary cough headaches, like dizziness or difficulties with balance, then talk to your doctor right away. You should also see a doctor right away if you start to experience blurred or double vision. In order to diagnose what is causing your cough headaches, your doctor may want to run diagnostic imaging tests. Why might your doctor recommend an MRI or  CT scan? A CT scan or MRI will provide your doctor with clear pictures of the affected area. CT scans and MRIs take highly detailed images of your internal structures, including bones, muscles, tissues, and organs like the brain.

At-Home Remedies for Cough Headaches

Finding ways to reduce your coughing and strain in your head and neck can help reduce your discomfort. There are many at-home remedies you can try for headaches from coughing, especially if you are dealing with allergies, the common cold, or the flu.

Cold or Flu Treatment

While there is not a specific treatment for the common cold or flu, there are many options that can help reduce your symptoms and discomfort. Cough drops can help soothe the throat and provide a cooling sensation to your airways. Cough drops are often made up of organic compounds like peppermint and eucalyptus that can help break up mucus and clear your airways. Breathing in steam can also help break up mucus and keep your throat from drying out. Warm beverages like hot tea or chicken soup can also help soothe a sore throat from coughing.

Allergy Treatment

People who suffer from seasonal allergies understand the frustrating symptoms that tend to show up around the same time every year. Allergy symptoms can trigger a headache and coughing, along with sinus pressure, sneezing, watery eyes, and other nasal symptoms. Allergies can actually trigger headaches and migraines because of how they cause inflammation and other uncomfortable symptoms. Allergy medications for seasonal allergies can help prevent the inflammatory response.

Over-the-Counter Medication

Over-the-counter medications can help alleviate the pain and discomfort of both coughing and headaches. Anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce swelling and inflammation caused by allergies or the cold or flu. Cough medications can also help to suppress the body’s instinct to cough and provide you with a break from coughing so you can get some rest.

Drinking Plenty of Fluids

Drinking plenty of water and other fluids helps keep your throat lubricated and keeps you hydrated. Getting plenty of fluids also helps support your immune system so that it can fight off whatever is causing your coughing and headaches.

Illness Prevention

You can also take steps to help avoid illnesses like the common cold or flu. Plan to get your flu shot each year, which can help you avoid moderate to severe symptoms if you do get sick. Washing your hands regularly and avoiding close contact with people who have a cold or the flu will also help you prevent getting sick.

Treatment Options for a Headache from Coughing

When at-home remedies are not enough to manage your symptoms, your doctor can help. Once you know what is causing your coughing and headaches, you can get started on a treatment that works best for you. Here are five treatment options for a headache from coughing.

Prescription Medicines

If you have a cough that has not responded to over-the-counter cough medication or has lasted for more than five days, then your doctor may recommend a prescription cough medicine. Cough medications can help reduce cough symptoms by reducing your body’s cough reflex. Your doctor may also recommend a stronger allergy medication to help with headaches and coughing.

Reducing Inflammation

Your doctor can help reduce inflammation that is causing or aggravating your coughing and headaches. When you have a lot of pressure in your chest and head, it can trigger your body’s natural immune response and lead to inflammation. There are medications and natural treatment options for reducing inflammation. A chiropractor can help reduce inflammation caused by misalignments in the spine or an issue with your muscles or other soft tissues. A physical therapist can also help you work through stretches and exercises to alleviate pressure and improve healthy functioning.

Decreasing Muscle Tension

Muscle tension in your neck, shoulders, and upper back can also make your headaches worse. When you have been coughing for a few days, you may start to notice your neck feels sore and tender to the touch. This is typically because of how all the coughing has strained your neck muscles. This can also cause you to carry tension in your shoulders and upper back. When your muscles are strained, it can also impact your spine. Since your spinal column houses your nervous system and connects to your brain, muscle tension can cause headaches. Your doctor or physical therapist can walk you through gentle and effective ways to reduce muscle tension and pain.

Manage Headache Pain

Your doctor or chiropractor can also talk to you about ways to manage your headache pain. If you are an allergy sufferer or deal with chronic headaches, then there may be ways to help you identify triggers for your headaches. In addition to addressing what is causing your cough, you can also address the root cause of your headache pain. Your orthopedic doctor or physical therapist can walk you through stretches and exercises that can help take stress and pressure off your head and neck to relieve head pain.

Resolve Misalignments

Misalignments in your spine refer to when vertebrae or spinal discs are slightly out of place. When you practice proper posture, your brain is able to effectively communicate through your central nervous system and to the rest of your body. A chiropractor can help identify and resolve misalignments in your spine that may be making your headache pain worse. Reducing muscle tension and helping properly realign your spine will allow your central nervous system to function at its best.

If your head hurts when you cough, then visit AICA Orthopedics to find out what is causing this discomfort and how our team of doctors can help. We have a team of multi-disciplinary doctors, including orthopedic doctors, surgeons, neurologists, chiropractors, and physical therapists. We offer in-house diagnostic imaging like X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, so you can get everything you need in one convenient location. Our doctors provide you with comprehensive care that includes a treatment plan personalized to you and your body. If you are dealing with cough headaches, then visit AICA Orthopedics in Conyers to find out what is causing your headaches when coughing. We will provide you with the best treatment options so you can fully recover and experience lasting relief.