Causes and Treatments of Headache When Coughing

Do you wonder why you have a headache when coughing? Many people experience a painful sensation every time they cough. Coughing is common and is usually a reaction to clear that tickle in your throat – it could also be the result of an exposure to smoke or an underlying condition like bronchitis. However, cough headaches make coughing a painful act and that is why it makes sense to talk to your doctor and look for a treatment option. Let's find out more about it.

How Does Headache When Cough Feel Like?

It feels differently for different people. However, you have a cough headache if you experience pain in your head immediately after coughing. In case of a primary cough headache, it could last for a few seconds only or continue to affect you for a few minutes. Some people keep experiencing it up to a couple of hours after coughing. The pain is usually sharp and splitting and affects both sides of your head. You are likely to have secondary cough headaches as well, which may cause several other symptoms, such as dizziness, fainting, unsteadiness, and longer lasting headaches.

Why Does Headache When Coughing Happen?

There can be many different causes of having a headache while coughing. However, experts are more certain about what causes a secondary headache – the exact cause of primary cough headaches is not clear yet. You may have secondary cough headaches due to a defect in the shape of your skull or a defect in the part of your brain that controls balance. It could also be the result of some other types of defects, such as a brain tumor, a weakness in the blood vessels in the brain, and a spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leak.

Risk factors

Experts believe that certain conditions can increase your risk for both primary and secondary cough headaches. Age and sex are two main risk factors for these headache types. For instance:

  • You are likely to have a primary cough headache after your 40s.
  • Men are more likely to develop primary cough headaches as compared to women.
  • You may develop cough headaches when you smoke a lot because it exposes you to chronic bronchitis, which causes heavy coughing.
  • You may develop cough headaches when you have allergies and develop a reaction after any exposure to smoke, pollen, dust, and chemical fumes.
  • You may eventually develop cough headaches when you have asthmatic attacks. Any swelling of the larynx may also lead to coughing, which can cause headaches.
  • You may develop cough headaches if you find it hard to expel phlegm. This could also be due to the sinuses creating intracranial pressure.

How to Deal With Headache When You Cough

It is important to identify the underlying cause of headache when coughing to determine the best treatment option. Here are some main treatment options:

  • You can use home remedies to deal with your primary cough headaches. A simple option would be to use lemon, salt, and black pepper to relieve cough. Similarly, a combination of honey and white paper powder may also help treat cough headaches. Garlic and grapes may help treat your sore throat and relieve coughing at the same time.
  • Your doctor may give you daily medications to help reduce pain and even prevent it from happening. Indomethacin is a drug used to prevent inflammation, but it can also help prevent headache coughing. Another option is Propranolol, which helps reduce pressure on blood vessels. In case you have a high level of spinal fluid, your doctor may prescribe Acetazolamides to reduce the fluid and treat cough headaches. Other commonly used medications include naproxen, methysergide, and ergonovine.
  • Lumbar puncture is another treatment option usually used in rare cases to help get rid of the fluid around the brain and the spinal cord. Removing this fluid would help relieve pressure within the skull and make your headaches less painful. However, it is important to note that surgery is usually an option for people who have secondary cough headaches. Your doctor may recommend surgery when other treatment approaches do not work. You also need surgery when your secondary headache is due to physical malformations. Preventive medications will not work greatly in these cases.

How to Prevent Headache When Coughing

As you may have noticed, it is never easy to deal with a cough headache, especially when you do not know the underlying causes. It is therefore better to take certain steps and avoid having it in the first place. So, it is important to do whatever you can to avoid situations and conditions that trigger coughing.

You should also work with your doctor and have respiratory infections treated properly. Ensure that you do not leave lung infections untreated. You may also have to talk to your doctor and avoid medications with coughing as a side effect. Getting flu shots regularly may also help.

If you have had cough headaches in the past, it is important that you do not lift heavy objects and stay away from bending for long. You should also take steps to avoid constipation because excessive strain can trigger cough headaches. 

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