Cough headaches

Cough headaches are an unusual type of headache triggered by coughing and other types of straining — such as from sneezing, blowing your nose, laughing, crying, singing, bending over or having a bowel movement.

Doctors divide cough headaches into two categories. Primary cough headaches are usually harmless, occur in limited episodes and eventually improve on their own. Secondary cough headaches are more serious, as they can be caused by problems within the brain. Treatment of secondary cough headaches may require surgery.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Prevention

Primary cough headaches

  • Begin suddenly with and just after coughing or other types of straining
  • Typically last a few seconds to a few minutes — some can last up to 30 minutes
  • Cause sharp, stabbing or splitting pain
  • Usually affect both sides of your head and are typically worse in the back of your head
  • May be followed by a dull, aching pain for several hours

Secondary cough headaches

Secondary cough headaches often have similar symptoms as primary cough headaches. In addition, you may experience:

  • Longer lasting headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Fainting

When to see a doctor

Consult your doctor if you experience sudden headaches after coughing — especially if the headaches are frequent or severe or you have any other troubling signs or symptoms, such as imbalance or blurred or double vision.

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