Crying is the body’s natural response to emotions that can be mentally and physically draining. When a strong cry triggers a headache, there are steps a person can take to help alleviate the physical pain, even if the emotional pain remains.

When crying hard enough, many people will experience:

  • a runny nose
  • bloodshot eyes
  • swelling around the eyes and general puffiness in the face
  • flushing around the face

Also, a strong cry can leave a person feeling emotionally drained. For some people, a headache comes after the emotional and physical responses of crying.

Keep reading for more information on how crying causes headaches and how to handle them when they occur.

Why does it happen?

Headache after crying
There are three types of headache that crying can trigger.

Scientists are still trying to understand the exact link between crying and headaches.

Crying and the types of headache it can cause are the body’s response to sadness.

Sadness triggers stress, which causes the body to release hormones such as cortisol. These hormones stimulate neurotransmitters in the brain that cause physical reactions such as crying, headaches, and runny noses.

While these mild physical symptoms are building, a person may start to feel the onset of a headache.

Below, we explore the three types of headache that crying can trigger:

Tension headaches

Most people who experience a headache from crying experience a tension headache.

Tension headaches occur when muscles in the head tighten. They can also cause some pain and discomfort in the neck and shoulders, as these muscles may tighten as well.

Tension headaches do not typically cause additional symptoms. For example, a person does not become sensitive to light or noise.

Sinus headaches

The eyes, nose, ears, and throat are all connected internally. When tears start to come out of the eyes, they also tend to back up into the sinuses.

Tears are the reason people experience runny noses when they cry, as some of the tears are entering their nasal passage.

If tears and mucus build up, they can cause pressure. A sinus headache occurs as a result of this pressure.

In addition, other symptoms a person may experience include:

  • postnasal drip
  • stuffy nose
  • tenderness around the nose, jaw, forehead, and cheeks
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • discharge from the nose

People with allergies may be used to sinus headaches, as they are a common side effect of having too much mucus in the sinuses. However, people with other conditions may also experience sinus headaches more frequently.

Most people who think they have a sinus headache actually have a migraine headache. This is because migraine headaches can cause congestion and swelling of the sinuses. True sinus headaches are rare.

Migraine headaches

Migraine headache after crying
A person with migraine may experience light and sound sensitivity.

Migraine headaches are intense, pounding headaches. These headaches often occur on only one side of the head.

In addition to the pain, a person with migraine may also experience:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • light and sound sensitivity

The stress that the body releases, which causes crying, can also trigger a migraine headache to occur in a person prone to them.

Interestingly, people who cry from nonemotional reasons, such as from cutting onions, do not experience migraine headaches. Only emotional crying can trigger them.


It is often possible to treat crying-induced headaches at home with a combination of home remedies and medications.

A person can try the following for any of the headaches linked to crying:

  • Rest in a calm, dark room, with the eyes closed.
  • Apply a heat or cold pack to the neck, eyes, or forehead.
  • Try over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen.
  • Try triptans, which help relieve migraine headaches and are available by prescription.
  • Massage the neck or shoulders to help alleviate tension.

People who experience migraine, tension, or sinus headaches chronically should speak to their doctor and follow their recommended treatment plan.

When to see a doctor

Most of the time, a headache that occurs as a result of emotional crying is not a major cause for concern. With some home treatment and rest, a person will usually start to feel physically better within a few hours.

However, if a person experiences migraine headaches, tension headaches, or sinus headaches frequently, they should speak to their doctor. They may have an underlying condition that is causing them to occur. For example, headaches may be a sign of depression.

Also, if crying is a new trigger for headaches, a doctor may be able to recommend a different strategy to help prevent the headache from occuring in the future.


Headache after crying exercise to reduce stress
Reducing stress by exercising may have a positive effect when a person’s emotions become overwhelming.

The most effective way to prevent chronic migraine, tension, and sinus headaches is to follow a treatment plan from a doctor.

However, it is important to note that stress is a trigger for both migraine and tension headaches, so it may not always be possible to avoid these headaches following emotional crying.

A person can try to reduce stress in other areas of their life.

Exercising often, eating well, and getting enough sleep can all have a positive impact on a person’s overall stress level, which may help when emotions become overwhelming.

For people who experience migraine or tension headaches, a doctor may prescribe certain medications to help prevent them in the future.

These medications can include:

  • antidepressants
  • cardiovascular drugs, such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers, which can help prevent migraine headaches
  • antiseizure drugs, which can help relieve migraine headaches and may help soothe tension headaches

For people who have regular sinus headaches, a doctor may recommend medications that help bring swelling down in the nasal passages.

A doctor may also recommend allergy medications to help block allergens from causing mucus to build up.


Many experts believe that headaches that occur following emotional crying are the result of the stress. This stress comes with the emotional impact that causes the person to cry in the first place.

People can usually treat headaches at home using simple remedies or following their doctor’s advice if the headaches occur more often than only after crying.

If headaches are recurring, a person should speak to their doctor to determine the source of them to help prevent them in the future.