Headaches In Children

1 What are Headaches in Children?

Cases of headaches in chidren are common and many of them are not serious.

In as much as adults develop different types of headaches, children also follow this trait. They may experience migraines or other stress related headaches. They can also have chronic headaches whic can be experienced on a daily basis.

In certain circumstances, headaches in children can be caused by an infection, high levels of stress or anxiety and a minor head trauma.

It is vital for parents to pay particular attention to thil child's headache symptoms and consult a doctor of the headaches becomes worse or occurs frequently.

In most scenarios, headaches in children can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication and other ifestyle measures.

2 Symptoms

Children can experience the same types of headaches adults do, although their symptoms may differ.

For example, a migraine in an adult usually starts early in the morning, but a child's is more likely to develop in the late afternoon. Also, migraine pain in children may last less than four hours, whereas in adults, migraines last at least four hours.

Such differences may make it difficult to pinpoint headache type in a child, especially in a younger child who can't describe symptoms. In general, though, certain symptoms tend to fall more frequently under certain categories.


Migraines can cause:

  • Pulsating,
  • throbbing
  • or pounding head pain
  • Pain that worsens with exertion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Extreme sensitivity to light and sound

Even infants can have migraines. A child who's too young to tell you what's wrong may cry and hold his or her head to indicate severe pain.

Tension-type headache

Tension-type headaches can cause:

  • A pressing tightness in the muscles of the head or neck
  • Mild to moderate, nonpulsating pain on both sides of the head
  • Pain that's not worsened by physical activity

Headache that's not accompanied by nausea or vomiting, as is often the case with migraine. Younger children may withdraw from regular play and want to sleep more.

Tension-type headaches can last from 30 minutes to several days.

Cluster headache

Cluster headaches are uncommon in children under 12 years of age. They usually:

  • Occur in groups of five or more episodes,
  • ranging from one headache every other day to eight a day
  • Involve sharp, stabbing pain on one side of the head that lasts from 15 minutes to three hours

Are accompanied by teariness, congestion, runny nose, or restlessness or agitation Chronic daily headache Doctors use the phrase "chronic daily headache" (CDH) for migraine headaches and tension-type headaches that occur more than 15 days a month for more than three months.

CDH may be caused by an infection, minor head injury or taking pain medications — even nonprescription pain medications — too often.

When to see a Doctor

Most headaches aren't serious, but seek prompt medical care if your child's headaches:

  • Wake your child from sleep
  • Worsen or become more frequent
  • Change your child's personality
  • Follow an injury, such as a blow to the head
  • Feature persistent vomiting or visual changes
  • Are accompanied by fever and neck pain or stiffness

3 Causes

A good number of factors may cause headaches in children.

These factors may include the following:

  • Illness
  • Infection

Well known illnesses such as flu, colds and ear and sinus infections are some of the most common causes of headaches in children.

More serious conditions such as meningitis or encephalitis, may also play a role in the  cause of headaches, but these are usually accompanied by othe rsigns and symtoms sucha as fever and neck stiffness.

Head trauma can also be added to this list of headache causes, bumps and bruises can cause headaches as well, althorugh these headaches are quite minor one is advise to seek medical attention if their child falls hard on their head orgets hit hard in the head.

Contacting a doctor if pain experienced by child steadily worsens after a head injury.

Emotional factors like stress and anxiety which are sometimes triggered by problems with friends, teachers or parents can play a part in children's headsches, particularly if thy have trouble recognizing feelingds of sadness and lonliness.

Some causes of children's headache are related to genetics. Headaches, particulary migraines can be passed on as a treit from parents to their children.

4 Making a Diagnosis

No specific method is required to diagnose headaches in children.

It is common for one to first make an appointment with their child’s doctor. The doctor will, depending on the severity of these headaches refer the child to a neurologist.

The following information may help one get ready for their child's appointment and to know what to expect from the doctor.

  • Writing down the child’s signs and symptoms, when they occurred, and how long they lasted.
  • It may help to keep a headache diary — listing each headache, when it happens, how long it lasts and what might have caused it.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements the child is taking up to that particular time.
  • Write down questions to ask the doctor.

For headaches in children, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What is likely causing the symptoms?
  • Are tests needed to confirm the diagnosis?
  • What is the best course of action?
  • Does my child need prescription medication, or would an over-the-counter medication work?
  • What follow-up, if any, is needed?
  • What can we do at home to lessen the pain?
  • What can we do at home to prevent headaches?
  • Don't hesitate to ask any other questions you have.

What to expect from your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including:

  • When did the symptoms start?
  • How often does your child experience these symptoms?
  • How long does the headache usually last?
  • Where does the pain occur?
  • Have the symptoms been continuous or intermittent?
  • Does your child have other symptoms, such as nausea or dizziness?
  • What, if anything, makes it better?
  • What, if anything, makes it worse?
  • Have the symptoms changed over time?
  • What treatments have been tried?
  • What medications does your child take?
  • Do other family members get headaches?

There are certain measures a parent can take before actually seeing a doctor to ensure their child’s headache does not worsen, these steps include encouraging the child to rest in a quiet dark place.

One can also consider giving their child over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to decrease the severity of the symptoms. It is advised to handle the prescription with caution, especially those made to children and teenagers.

Although aspirin is approved for children over the age of 2, any child or teenager recovering from a condition such as chickenpox or any flu-related condition should never take aspirin. The reason for this restriction is based upon the fact that aspirin is linked to Reye’s syndrome which is a rare but potentially life-threatening illness.

Another way a doctor can make a diagnosis is by looking into the child’s headache history. Usually the doctor will ask the child to describe the headaches in detail, this will allow him or her to be able to notice a pattern or a common trigger.

The doctor can also carry out a physical exam, this will include measuring the child’s height, weight, head circumference, blood pressure and pulse, and also the examination of the eyes, neck, had, shoulders and spine.

In some cases, imaging scans and other methods may help pinpoint a diagnosis or rule out any other medical condition that could be causing headaches.

5 Treatment

It most cases, children’s headaches are treatable at home. This can be done by decreasing noise, giving plenty of fluids, balanced meals and over-the-counter medications.

For older children with frequent headaches, learning about ways to relax and manage stress through different forms of therapy. Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) can typically relieve headaches for children.

They should be taken at the first sign of headache. Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 2, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. Prescription medications like triptans can be utilised to treat migraines, they are effective and can be used safely in children older than 6 years of age.

If a child experiences nausea and vomiting with migraines, their doctor may prescribe an anti-nausea drug. The medication strategy is not a uniform one, it differs from child to child. Asking the doctor about nausea relief is a vital step as well. An overuse of such medication can be very dangerous as it can contribute to the symptoms of the headache.

Over time, painkillers and other medications may lose their effectiveness. In addition, all medications have side effects. If an individual’s child takes medications regularly, including products they procure over-the-counter, they should always discuss the risks and benefits with their doctor.

One of the triggers for the headaches is stress even if does not appear to be so. Depression and other mental health disorders also can play a part. In these cases, doctors may recommend one or more behaviour therapies, such as: Relaxation training.

Relaxation techniques include deep breathing, yoga, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation, which is accomplished by tensing one muscle at a time, and then completely releasing the tension, until every muscle in the body is relaxed. An older child can learn relaxation techniques in classes or at home using books or tapes.

Another way is through biofeedback training. Biofeedback teaches the child to control certain body responses that help reduce pain. During such a session, the child is connected to devices that monitor and give feedback on body functions, such as muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure. The child may then learn how to reduce muscle tension and slow his or her heart rate and breathing.

Cognitive behavioural therapy can also be included in this list. This therapy can help any child learn to manage stress and reduce the frequency and severity of headaches. During this type of talk therapy, a counsellor helps the child learn ways to view and cope with life events more positively.

6 Prevention

Several methods are used to prevent headaches in children.

The following information can be very vital for any parent with a child or children suffering from headaches. Initially, one might aim at reducing severity of these headaches.

Practicing healthy behaviours can be very helpful, these behaviours should promote good health, in general and also may be able to prevent any headaches in children.

Other changes in the child's lifestyle include: staying physically active is very important for any child as this is a very good contribution to their healthy well being. Getting enough sleep must always remain an objective for parents to encourage their children to do, enough rest gives the body enough time to recover from any physical activity that the child might taken a part of.

This rest can also be a part of relaxation which is vital in preventing headaches.

Eating healthy meals and snacks can also be an important step to preventing headaches in children. Children must also avoid any intake of caffeine as it is a very known trigger of headaches.

Some studies have proven that little physical activity can induce headaches in adolescents. Reducing any stress which might be causing these headaches is another way of preventing headaches. Parents should always be alert on any thing that might be stressful to their child, these stressful situations may include a difficulty doing school work or a poor relationship with friends.

It is advisable to seek a counsellor if any of a child's headaches are stress related. Keeping a headache diary is also key. It will help one note when headaches start, how long they last and what, if anything provides relief. Headache diaries can help parents to determine any triggers of the headaches an cancel them out.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

A few alternative remedies exist for headaches in children.

Over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are usually quite effective in reducing any pain brought up as a result of these headaches.

It is very important to be cautious before giving children any form of medication. The following points should be kept in mind:

  • Read the label carefully and always respect the recommended dosages for the child, do not give dosages more frequently than recommended.
  • Do no give the child over-the-counter medication two or three days a week.

Daily use can trigger a rebound headache. Caution must also be used when giving medication like aspirin to children or adolescents.

Aspirin should not be given to children recovering from chickenpox or any condition accompanied by flu-like symptoms as this can cause Reye's symdrome.

Apart from over-the-counter medication, relaxation can help children in coping with theses headaches.

8 Risks and Complications

There are several risk factors associated with headaches in children.

Any child can develop headaches. However, they are more common in girls than in boys, especially at the time of puberty.

Children who have a family history of headaches or migraines are more likely to develop the themselves.

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