Suffering from Secondary Cough Headaches? Here's Your Solution!

  • Kajal Madhavani MSc in Biomedical Science(Cancer Biology), University of Westminster
  • Raadhika Agrawal Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, Kasturba Medical College, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India

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Ever experienced a laugh turn into a headache? Discover the hidden truths behind secondary cough headaches and unlock the key to uninterrupted joy!


Picture this: you're amid a hearty laugh, enjoying a light-hearted moment with loved ones, when suddenly, an unexpected sharp pain shoots through your head. It's the dreaded secondary cough headache, disrupting even the most joyous of occasions. Understanding what causes this unsettling phenomenon is crucial for managing and addressing this discomfort effectively.

Understanding secondary cough headaches

Unlike primary cough headaches, which occur spontaneously and without any underlying cause, secondary cough headaches are often a symptom of structural defects in the brain. They manifest in response to certain triggers, indicating an issue that requires attention and medical intervention. Recognizing the distinctions between the two is vital for effective diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms and diagnosis 

Characterized by sudden, intense head pain, secondary cough headaches often accompany distressing effects such as dizziness, nausea, facial numbness, blurred vision, balance issues, and occasional fainting. Additionally, individuals might endure persistent, dull head pain on one side for multiple days. Recognizing these unique traits is crucial for distinguishing secondary cough headaches from other types and expediting diagnosis.

Specific symptoms include:

  • Headaches are triggered by actions like coughing, laughing, or straining during bodily movements.
  • Headaches lasting more than a minute.
  • Predominant pain at the back of the head.
  • Moderate to severe pain, described as bursting, stabbing, or dull.
  • Potential accompanying symptoms like dizziness, numbness, and fainting.

Understanding these symptoms aids in accurate diagnosis and effective management of secondary cough headaches, ensuring tailored treatment plans address the underlying causes comprehensively.

For an accurate diagnosis of secondary cough headaches, healthcare providers may utilize specialized imaging tests like computerized tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These detailed scans offer valuable insights into any irregularities in the skull, brain, or other head structures that could potentially trigger head pain during coughing or sneezing episodes. Diagnosis of secondary cough headaches is typically based on an evaluation of symptoms and positive results from brain scans (CT or MRI), indicating an underlying brain condition as the cause. Additionally, a lumbar puncture might be conducted to examine the cerebrospinal fluid and further aid in diagnosis. Understanding these diagnostic procedures is critical in identifying the root cause and initiating appropriate treatment measures for secondary cough headaches.1

Causes and risk factors 

Secondary cough headaches can arise from various health conditions, including but not limited to Chiari malformation, intracranial hypotension, brain tumours, or aneurysms. Certain risk factors, such as a history of head injuries or spinal conditions, might predispose individuals to experiencing these headaches. Understanding these underlying causes and risk factors is crucial for both prevention and effective management.2

Brain tumoursDescription
Chiari malformation type 1Most common, Structural defect in the skull
Intracranial hypotensionResulting from the low cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressure hydrocephalus
HydrocephalusResulting from the CSF leak 
Brain tumorsAbnormal growths within the brain tissue
AneurysmsWeakened blood vessels that may lead to internal bleeding
Subdural hematomaBlood clot accumulation outside of the brain tissue 


Managing secondary cough headaches involves tailored treatment measures focused on addressing the underlying cause. Although prevention is not feasible due to the structural nature of the condition, various treatment approaches are available depending on the specific causal factors:

Chiari Malformation: For pain alleviation, indomethacin may be prescribed, while severe cases may require surgical interventions to rectify skull shape and alleviate pressure on brain structures.

Cerebral Aneurysm: Specialized procedures can effectively seal off or divert blood flow from aneurysms, significantly reducing the risk of rupture and related complications.

Brain Tumors: A comprehensive approach combining surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy is typically employed to target tumours and minimize their impact on neurological functions.

Consulting a healthcare provider for a personalized treatment plan is essential, as addressing the root cause through appropriate medical interventions can effectively manage symptoms and improve overall quality of life.

Treatment MethodsDescription
MedicationPain relievers and specific drugs to address underlying causes Pain relievers and specific drugs to address underlying causes
Physical TherapyExercises and techniques to strengthen the body and spine
Surgical InterventionInvasive procedures to address complex underlying conditions

Preventive measures

Adopting a proactive approach to prevent secondary cough headaches involves embracing a holistic lifestyle. This includes maintaining a balanced and healthy routine, avoiding sudden movements that strain the body, and effectively managing any pre-existing health conditions. Implementing small yet impactful adjustments can significantly reduce the likelihood of experiencing these disruptive headaches. Moreover, a comprehensive treatment plan integrating medical interventions and lifestyle adjustments serves to enhance the management of secondary cough headaches, ultimately ensuring a better quality of life for those affected.

Real-life stories and case studies

Sandra, a dedicated grandmother and passionate gardener, recounts her experience with secondary cough headaches, highlighting the challenges she faced in managing her symptoms while tending to her garden. Through consistent medical care and gentle exercise routines, she successfully minimized the impact of these headaches, allowing her to continue pursuing her love for gardening without constant interruptions.


In conclusion, secondary cough headaches, though distressing, can be effectively managed with the right medical guidance and lifestyle adjustments. Prioritizing regular medical check-ups and being mindful of one's physical well-being can significantly contribute to minimizing the impact of these headaches. Remember, your health is your greatest asset, and addressing any concerns promptly is key to maintaining a fulfilling and vibrant life.


Secondary cough headaches, a result of underlying structural issues in the brain, present unique challenges that necessitate targeted treatment approaches. Recognizing the distinctive symptoms and causes, including Chiari malformation, cerebral aneurysms, and brain tumours, is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective management. While prevention is not feasible, implementing lifestyle changes and adopting a holistic treatment plan, incorporating medical interventions and tailored adjustments, can significantly alleviate the impact of these headaches and improve the overall quality of life for affected individuals.


Can a secondary cough and headache indicate a serious health condition?

Yes, secondary cough headaches can be a sign of underlying health issues, such as intracranial hypotension, brain tumors, or aneurysms. Consulting a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation is essential.

Are there specific lifestyle changes that can help reduce the frequency of secondary cough headaches?

Yes, adopting gentle breathing exercises, maintaining good posture, and avoiding sudden movements that strain the body can significantly contribute to minimizing the occurrence of secondary cough headaches.

Is surgery always necessary for treating secondary cough headaches?

No, surgery is not always necessary. Treatment options may vary depending on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Consulting a healthcare professional for personalized guidance is crucial.

Can secondary cough headaches be completely cured?

A: While complete recovery is possible, it depends on the specific underlying cause and the individual's response to treatment. Timely intervention and consistent management can significantly improve the overall quality of life for individuals experiencing secondary cough headaches.


  1. Frysh, Paul. “Cough Headaches.” WebMD
  2. “Secondary Cough Headache: Symptoms, Causes & Tests.” Cleveland Clinic,

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Kajal Madhavani

MSc Biomedical Sciences (Cancer Biology), University of Westminster, UK

Kajal Madhavani, equipped with dual master’s degrees microbiology and biomedical science, navigated effortlessly from an Assistant Lecturer to an NHS Medical Admin and currently excels as an Educational Support Worker. Her creative edge shines in crafting scientific diagrams, complemented by a portfolio of impactful review articles covering a spectrum of medical subject presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
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