Why Does Crying Leave You With A Headache?

For some, a headache can be prompted by smells, eyestrain, caffeine, bright lighting, or more, according to experts at Mount Sinai. For others, a headache may follow a bout of tears. Why is it that after a hardy cry, we find ourselves faced with a throbbing headache?

Questions still remain amongst the scientific community regarding the link between crying and headaches, yet experts believe there may be multiple factors at play. "One theory is the emotional response from crying causes a trigger of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which in turn lead to a headache," West Coast regional medical director at One Medical, Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, explains to PopSugar. Severity and duration of a cry may also play a role in the kind of headache you experience.

Experts at PsychCentral explain that tension headaches are most commonly associated with crying due to the prolonged tensing of head and neck muscles. Alternatively, a sinus headache may develop after a period of crying. Because our tear ducts are connected with our sinus passages, all that drainage can cause sinus congestion. "This congestion will lead to pressure buildup and an eventual pressure headache in your forehead and cheeks," explains neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez via PsychCentral. Crying can also increase the likelihood of migraine headaches if you're someone who regularly experiences them.

To help, healthcare professionals offer their tips for how to lessen the severity of a headache after crying.

Try these headache pain relief methods

One suggestion is to utilize temperature for pain relief. Experts at PsychCentral encourage individuals to take either a hot or cold shower after crying. Alternatively, try applying a heating pad or cold compress to areas of the head including the neck and forehead.

A massage can also be beneficial for relieving headache tension after crying (per PsychCentral). However, if no one else is around, director of the headache division at NYU Langone Health, Dr. Lawrence Newman, explains via Women's Health that squeezing the trigger point on the webbed space of your hand between your thumb and first finger may also help relieve headache pain. 

Lastly, try drinking a coffee or other caffeinated beverage, offers PsychCentral. The Mayo Clinic explains that caffeine helps restrict the blood flow causing pressure around the brain, which may help lessen the pounding of a headache after a heavy cry. Medications such as acetaminophen or aspirin can also be used for headache pain relief (via Women's Health). In some cases, crying may indicate a need for emotional or mental health support. Dr. Sanam Hafeez addresses this, telling PsychCentral, "If you find yourself crying often, it might be worth looking into more long-term solutions, like therapy and support groups." 

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.