Crying is a natural response to a strong emotion — like watching a sad movie or going through a particularly painful breakup.
Sometimes the emotions you feel when you cry can be so intense that they lead to physical symptoms, like a headache.
How crying might cause headaches isn’t clear, but intense emotions, like stress and anxiety, seem to trigger processes in the brain that pave the way for headache pain.
Non-emotional or positive tears don’t seem to have the same effect. Researchers have found that crying while you cut onions or when you’re happy doesn’t provoke headaches. Only tears tied to negative emotions have this effect.
Read on to learn more about how these headaches present and what you can do to find relief.
Migraine and tension headaches are two of the most common headache types:
- Migraines cause severe, pounding pain — often just on one side of your head. They’re often accompanied by symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
- Tension headaches cause an aching pain and pressure that can feel like a band tightening around your head. Your neck and shoulders might also ache.
In one 2003 study, researchers found that anxiety-provoking and stressful situations were the biggest triggers for migraine and tension headaches. They saw crying as a likely and common but less well-known trigger worthy of further study and discussion.
What you can do
Medication can help prevent tension and migraine headaches as well as relieve symptoms once they start.
You may be able to stop a headache in its tracks with:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and acetaminophen (Tylenol), may be enough to relieve mild headache pain. If your symptoms are more moderate, look for a pain reliever that combines acetaminophen or aspirin with caffeine for maximum effect.
- Triptans change blood flow in the brain to bring down inflammation. They can help with severe migraine pain. Sumatriptan (Imitrex) is available OTC. Frovatriptan (Frova), rizatriptan (Maxalt), and other triptans are available by prescription only.
If you get regular migraine or tension headaches, your doctor might prescribe one of these drugs to help prevent them:
- Cardiovascular drugs treat high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, but they also prevent migraine headaches. This includes beta-blockers like metoprolol (Lopressor) and calcium channel blockers like verapamil (Calan).
- Antidepressants prevent both migraines and tension headaches. This includes tricyclics like amitriptyline and selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like venlafaxine (Effexor).
- Anti-seizure drugs, such as topiramate (Topamax), can reduce the number of migraine headaches you get. These drugs might prevent tension headaches, too.
Your emotions and your sinuses are more closely linked than you might think. More than 20 percent of the people with chronic sinus problems report feeling depressed. This may be because both conditions stem from inflammation.
Inflamed sinuses may also contribute to depression by interfering with sleep and reducing quality of life.
Crying bouts are common in people who are depressed. Crying can worsen sinus symptoms like congestion and a runny nose. Pressure and congestion in your sinuses can contribute to headache pain.
Other symptoms of a sinus problem include:
- stuffed nose
- pain around your cheeks, eyes, forehead, nose, jaw, and teeth
- thick discharge from your nose
- dripping in the back of your throat (postnasal drip)
- sore throat
What you can do
OTC and prescription-strength nasal corticosteroids can bring down inflammation in the sinus passages.
Popular options include:
- beclomethasone (Beconase AQ)
- budesonide (Rhinocort)
- fluticasone (Flonase)
- mometasone (Nasonex)
Corticosteroids are also available in oral and injected forms.
If you have severe sinus symptoms that don’t improve with medicine, your doctor might recommend surgery to open up your sinus passages.
Both your body and brain need the right balance of fluids and electrolytes to work properly. If you don’t drink enough fluids, or you lose them too quickly, you can become dehydrated.
When your brain loses too much fluid, it shrinks. This reduction in brain volume can cause headache pain. Dehydration might also trigger or prolong migraine headache attacks.
People who’ve experienced a dehydration headache say the pain feels like an ache. It may get worse when you move your head, walk, or bend down.
Other signs of dehydration include:
- dry mouth
- extreme thirst
- less frequent urination
- dark urine
Crying is very unlikely to dehydrate you, unless you haven’t been drinking enough fluid. Dehydration is usually the result of:
- excess sweating
- increased urination
- diarrhea or vomiting
What you can do
Oftentimes, the pain will go away after you have a glass or two of water or an electrolyte drink, like Gatorade.
You can also take an OTC pain reliever, like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
You shouldn’t take pain relievers or other drugs that contain caffeine. They can increase fluid loss.
You should seek immediate medical attention if you have a headache and experience:
- trouble seeing or talking
- fever of 102°F (about 39°C) or higher
- numbness or weakness on one side of your body
It may also be a good idea to see your doctor if your headache symptoms don’t improve within a day or two. Your doctor can confirm the underlying cause and recommend more targeted treatment.
Other signs of depression include:
- feeling hopeless, guilty, or worthless
- losing interest in things you once loved
- having very little energy
- feeling extremely tired
- being irritable
- having trouble concentrating or remembering
- sleeping too much or too little
- gaining or losing weight
- thinking about dying
Antidepressant drugs and therapy can help relieve your depression — and with it, your crying bouts.