Cough headaches are just like normal headaches that occur due to coughing and other similar forms of straining such as from sneezing, laughing, blowing your nose, bending over, singing, or making a bowel movement.
Medically, cough headaches are classified into two categories: primary cough headaches and secondary cough headaches.
Primary cough headaches are harmless headaches that occur in restricted bouts and go away on their own, secondary cough headaches are severe forms of headaches that may occur due to underlying problems associated with the brain. Treatment for secondary cough headaches involves surgery in most cases.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms of primary cough headaches include:
- Headache beings suddenly right after coughing or any other form of straining movement
- May cause a sharp, splitting or stabbing headache
- Lasts for only a few seconds to up to a few minutes – sometimes 30 minutes
- Normally both sides of the head are affected and pain worsens in the back of the head
- Headache may be followed by a vague, aching pain for a few or several hours
Signs and symptoms of secondary cough headaches are often similar to primary cough headaches. Additional symptoms of secondary cough headache may include:
- Pain that lasts for a longer time
- Loss of coordination – unsteadiness
When to seek medical attention
See your doctor if suffer from headaches right after coughing, particularly if the headaches are severe or frequent and cause other troublesome signs and symptoms such as blurred or double vision or unsteadiness.
The main cause of primary cough headaches is still not certain however, it can be possible that increased intracranial pressure (pressure in the head) may contribute to coughing headaches from coughing or other forms of straining movements.
Causes of secondary cough headaches include:
- Faulty shape of the skull
- Defect in the cerebellum of the brain that plays a role in controlling balance
- Weakness in the blood vessel in the brain – cerebral aneurysm
- Brian tumor
Treatment for cough headaches depends on whether you are suffering from a primary or secondary cough headache.
For primary cough headaches, if headaches are bothersome, your doctor may advise taking medication daily to help reduce or prevent pain. Only on rare occasions, will your doctor recommend a spinal tap. This method involves removing the fluid around the brain and spinal cord. This may relieve pressure inside the skull that contributes to primary cough headaches.
For secondary cough headaches, your doctor will most likely refer you to a surgeon to treat the underlying problem. Preventive medications, such as those taken for primary cough headaches are ineffective for people who suffer from secondary cough headaches. However, it is imperative to note that just because you respond positively to preventive medication, does not mean you have primary cough headaches, and therefore make sure you consult a doctor for necessary treatment.
Trying to prevent straining actions that trigger cough headaches such as sneezing, coughing or strained bowel movements may reduce the frequency of headaches significantly. Preventive methods for cough headaches may include:
- Treating infections to the lungs such as bronchitis and quitting smoking
- Avoiding medications which have side effects such as coughing
- Taking fiber supplements and stool softeners to prevent constipation
- Getting annual flu shots
Reducing heavy lifting and activities that involve bending for prolonged periods