Cough Headaches Overview
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.
Cough headaches are triggered by strain or exertion that occurs by:
- Bending over
- Blowing of the nose
- Holding the breath
- Fast head movements
- Having a bowel movement
Some clinical studies have shown that men are four times more likely to suffer from cough headaches as women. Most cough headaches don’t appear until after age 40.
Symptoms of 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 two hours
- Cause sharp, stabbing or splitting pain
- Usually affect both sides of your head and may be worse in the back of your head
- May be followed by a dull, aching pain for hours
Secondary Cough Headaches
Secondary cough headaches often have symptoms similar to those of primary cough headaches, though you may experience:
- Longer lasting headaches
What causes Cough Headaches
Harmless, primary cough headaches are believed to be caused by increased pressure in the head that comes from coughing and other types of strain. This pressure increase is called the Valsalva’s maneuver, which is sometimes done deliberately by closing the mouth, pinching the nose and breathing out. It is done to equalize pressure in the ear, for example, if pressure builds while flying. However, there is the risk of applying too much pressure to the middle ear and causing damage. Cough headaches appear similar to migraines triggered by physical activity and to exertion headaches.
Risk factors of Cough Headaches
Risk factors for primary cough headaches include:
- Age. Primary cough headaches most often affect people older than age 40.
- Sex. Men are more prone to getting primary cough headaches.
Secondary Risk factors of Cough Headaches
Risk factors for secondary cough headaches include:
- Being younger than age 40
Diagnosing Cough Headaches
The International Headache Society defines cough headache as:
- A headache with the characteristics listed in B and C
- Starts suddenly and lasts one second to 30 minutes
- Headache is brought on by and only happens with coughing, straining and Valsalva maneuvers
- Headache is not caused by another disorder