If you’ve gotten a cold, flu, or other upper respiratory tract infection this year, you may have experienced a short, intense period of coughing, or a long, lingering cough that sticks around for weeks after your cold is otherwise gone. In either case, it’s not unusual for coughing to aggravate your temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD).

man coughing into his handIllustration of Partnerships

One of the things your cough is teaching you is how your muscles are working together. Although your jaw muscles aren’t really involved in the act of coughing, they work with the muscles that are. A cough puts a lot of demands on muscles that don’t normally do a lot of work. Muscles in your abdomen and in your larynx are being asked to repeatedly perform an act that is outside their normal parameters of action.

While these muscles are acting, other muscles are helping them. The cough rebounds through your body, requiring that other muscles help stabilize the body. These muscles in your neck, jaw, and head are also being asked to respond to something that is very out of the ordinary for them, too. As a result, you can experience sore muscles that aren’t actually participating in your cough.

Common places where people report pain after a cough include the back of the head, the forehead, and the jaw.

A Simple Test for Cough Headaches

Some people get a headache after coughing, while others get what is known as a cough headache. A cough headache can be related to serious health conditions, including brain or skull deformations, tumors, and cerebral aneurysms. Signs that you might have a cough headache include:

  • Longer headaches
  • Unsteadiness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

If you experience these symptoms linked to your cough headaches, you should talk to your doctor and get neuroimaging. In addition, you can do a simple test to see if you might have cough headaches. It’s called the Valsalva maneuver, but it’s easy to do. Pinch your nose closed and blow into your mouth with closed lips. This should puff your cheeks out as well as your eardrums.

If this triggers a headache, then your headache is linked to air pressure changes in the body rather than the physical action of coughing. That could mean a more serious cause for your headaches. Talk to your doctor for more information.

Eliminate Other Causes

In medicine, diagnosing your condition often involves eliminating other potential causes. If the stress of coughing is triggering your headaches, then TMJ could be part of the cause.

If TMJ is part of the cause, it might mean more headaches for you in the future. Coughing is an extreme example of the normal forces your body experiences every day. You may now only experience your jaw pain and headaches after a coughing fit, but in the near future, it’s likely that just talking, eating, or opening your jaw may result in similar discomfort.

The good thing is, if that happens, you’ll recognize the pain for what it is, and know that your jaw is the underlying cause.

For a non-surgical treatment to relieve your jaw pain, please call (303) 691-0267 at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado in Denver to schedule an appointment.