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Understanding Cough Headaches

While it seems unusual to many, there are people who feel mild to severe head pain every time they cough. In some cases, the same pain is triggered when the person bends over or sneezes. When a person has a cough headache, severe pain can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. Once the stabbing sensation has subsided, the person is left with a dull ache for about one to two hours after the initial pain. In cases where the person coughs or sneezes continuously, this cycle of severe pain subsiding to a dull ache goes on until the sneezing or coughing stops.

The actual reason why some people experience pain while coughing is still unknown, but most experts believe that this type of cough is triggered by pressure inside the skull whenever a person coughs, sneezes, laughs, or bends over. To understand cough headaches better, doctors and headache specialists have divided this type of cough into two categories.

  • Primary Cough Headaches – This type of headache is generally harmless. Patients who have been diagnosed with primary cough headaches experience the pain in sporadic episodes and can usually expect their condition to improve over time.
  • Secondary Cough Headaches –People who are diagnosed with secondary cough headaches have something to worry about because this means that there’s an underlying condition that’s causing the pain and the cough only triggers it. Patients with secondary cough headaches may be suffering from any of the following conditions:
    • Chiari Malformation
    • Meningioma
    • Pituitary Tumor
    • Intracranial Hypotension
    • Pneumocephalus
    • Subdural Hematoma
    • Brainstem compression from platybasia
    • Other brain tumors

Cough Headaches and Migraines

There are some instances where coughing and other strenuous physical reactions can trigger migraines. In order to determine whether the pain suffered after coughing is indeed a migraine; migraineurs should take note of the following:

  • The headache began even before coughing and the cough only made the pain more severe.
  • The severe pain lasts longer than a few minutes after the cough.
  • The severe pain is continuous and is not replaced by a dull ache.

If you have a history of migraines and experience the symptoms listed above, then it’s more likely that you’re experiencing a migraine made worse by the pressure placed on the brain by coughing, sneezing, and other activities that can also trigger a cough headache.

Cough Headache Treatment

There is no definite treatment plan for cough headaches. Since the severe pain lasts only for several minutes at a time, it is not advisable to treat the headache with painkillers. Instead, it is better to treat the cough or colds that trigger the headache episode. In cases where the cough headache is secondary to an underlying condition, this requires a whole new treatment plan. In most cases, especially those involving tumors of any kind, surgery and other treatment methods may be needed to relieve the symptoms and treat the underlying condition as well.

Cough headaches are usually nothing to worry about, but if the pain becomes increasingly more severe every time or if the cough headaches occur more often than they usually do, it’s always best to consult a headache specialist in order to get proper diagnosis and treatment.

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