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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What is causing head pain when coughing or sneezing?

    I experience acute pain when coughing or sneezing and it is followed by headache.
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    Dr Ryan Hislop

    Chiropractor

    Ryan Hislop is the Clinical Director at the Mudgee Chiropractic Health and Wellness Centre. As an experienced and evidence-based diagnostician, Ryan works largely by medical … View Profile

    There are many pressure and mechano sensitive tissues in the skull and around the brain. This includes the covering around the brain known as the dura. It is also important to take into account the upper cervical spine and brainstem as coughing and sneezing does not only evoke pressure changes (due to increased intracranial pressure via blood pressure and CSF pressures), but also mechanical changes (due to the associated movements). 

    Specific studies involving stimulation of the supratentorial dura mata and large cranial vessels evoke pain in the head, face and neck. It is also well understood that there is a crosswiring between pain fibres in the neck and head which can cause headache. This occurs due to convergence on the trigeminocervical nucleus (a bundle of nerve cells in the brainstem). The inputs from the dura and cervical spine converge at this nucleus then move up to the thalamus to let your brain know of pain. 

    It would be worthwhile having a practitioner examine this case as there are multiple reasons for this to occur. Sometimes there may be a simple explanation for the irritation of these nerve fibres, or sometimes it may be complex. 

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