Crying is a natural response to many emotions, including sadness, grief, stress, and even happiness. Some people experience a headache after crying.

The body produces tears when the limbic system, which is responsible for emotional arousal, sends a signal to the lacrimal glands. These glands, located just above each eyelid, produce tears.

When a person cries, they may also experience a runny nose and tension in the muscles around their face and head.

This article discusses the types of headaches that people might experience after crying and how to treat or prevent them.

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for headache and migraine, visit our dedicated hub.

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Scientists do not know the exact link between crying and headaches.

Often when a person is crying, they may be experiencing pain or strong emotions, which put the body under stress. The body releases hormones, such as cortisol, when experiencing stress, which can cause a range of physical and emotional reactions in the body.

Crying also engages several facial muscles, which may cause tension around the face, head, and neck.

These emotional and physical processes may be responsible for triggering several different types of headaches after crying.

One type of headache that a person may experience after crying is a tension headache.

When a person cries, several muscles in their face tense up. They may also feel tension in their jaw, down their neck, and at the back of their head. If a person is crying over a prolonged period, the continuous contractions of these muscles may result in a tension headache.

Tension headaches are the most common primary headache, a headache that is not the result of another condition.

Symptoms of a tension headache may include:

  • pain on both sides of the head, neck, or face
  • a pain that feels like a tight vice or band around the head
  • tender feeling in the affected area which may worsen with touch

When a person cries, their tears drain into small holes in the corners of the eyelids, known as puncta. If a person produces a lot of tears, this drainage system becomes overwhelmed, and tears overflow down their cheeks. Some of these tears can also drain into their nasal passage.

Within the nasal passage are small, hollow spaces, known as the sinuses, that run along the cheekbones and forehead. When tears drain into the sinuses, they mix with mucus and can cause a runny nose. This buildup of mucus and tears can cause pressure in the sinuses, which may lead to a headache.

A person experiencing a sinus headache may feel pain and pressure across their forehead, cheeks, or around their eyes. These areas may also be tender and painful to touch. The pain and pressure of a sinus headache may worsen with sudden movements or when a person leans forward.

However, it is important to note that sinus headaches are not common and people experience them as a result of sinusitis. Furthermore, there is an overlap between the symptoms of sinus headaches and a migraine, so it may be difficult for a person to know which one they are experiencing.

If a person is crying due to feeling overwhelmed and stressed, this may trigger a migraine attack.

Stress is a common trigger for migraines. Researchers found that 80% of people who experience migraines reported stress as one of their common triggers and 57.7% reported fatigue as another.

There are also some common links between the processes involved with crying and those that trigger a migraine attack.

Research has found that crying may activate the autonomic nervous system. Additionally, research shows that migraine attacks may occur due to dysregulation of the sympathetic nervous system, which is part of the autonomic nervous system, indicating a possible connection between the two.

Migraine attacks are a common type of headache, with around 15% of Americans experiencing them. Migraines may involve a throbbing or pounding pain across the head and face. This pain can be moderate to severe and tends to worsen with activity.

It is common for this pain to be on one side but it can occur anywhere across the face, head, and neck. Some people may mistake a migraine for a sinus headache, as the pain can also occur across the nose and behind the eyes and a runny nose may accompany it.

Along with pounding head pain, other symptoms of a migraine may include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sensitivity to light, sound, or smells

There are several ways a person may reduce the discomfort of a headache after crying. A person may consider speaking with a doctor about headache treatments because different types of headaches may respond better to different treatments. People should speak with a doctor before taking any medications to manage their headaches.

A person may wish to try some of the following techniques:

  • gently massaging the head and neck muscles to reduce tension
  • placing a warm or cool pack on the affected area to help relieve pressure and lessen muscle tension
  • taking over-the-counter pain medications, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen
  • taking triptans, a prescription medication that aims to treat migraines
  • resting in a cool, dark, quiet room

In addition to the above treatments, if a person experiencing a crying-induced headache suspects it may be a sinus headache, they may wish to try the following:

  • using a nasal irrigation device to help decongest the sinuses to relieve sinus pressure — the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a guide on how to safely use one
  • leaning over a warm bowl of water and inhaling the vapor
  • staying hydrated

Headaches are a common occurrence and can often cause mild discomfort. However, if a person is experiencing frequent headaches that impact their quality of life, they may wish to discuss potential causes and treatments with a doctor.

If a person experiences a headache with the following symptoms, it could be a sign of a more serious condition that requires medical attention:

  • severe pain that is worse than any headache they have previously experienced
  • a severe headache with a sudden onset
  • a high fever
  • repeated vomiting
  • problems with their speech, vision, or balance

If a person frequently feels overwhelmed and is crying far more often than usual, this may be a sign that they are experiencing a mental health condition. A doctor can help a person understand their symptoms and find the right support and treatment for them.

To help support your mental well-being and that of your loved ones, visit our dedicated mental health hub for more research-backed information and resources.

If a person is experiencing any of the headaches discussed above frequently, the best prevention is to follow a treatment plan provided by a doctor.

A doctor may prescribe medications for persistent migraine and tension headaches that aim to prevent reoccurring headaches, such as beta-blockers.

If a person is experiencing frequent sinus pain, a doctor may prescribe steroid nasal sprays or antihistamines.

Other ways a person may prevent crying-induced headaches include:

Some people experience headaches after crying. Although scientists are not exactly sure why this occurs, facial muscle tension, sinus issues, and stress may play a role.

A person can try different techniques for preventing and treating headaches that occur after crying. However, if the headaches are frequent and impact their daily life, they may wish to see a doctor.

A doctor can discuss a person’s situation with them to help them decide the best course of treatment.