Headaches in children
Headaches in children
Headaches in children are common and are usually not serious. Like adults, children can develop different types of headaches, including migraines or stress-related (tension) headaches. Children can also have chronic daily headaches.
In some cases, headaches in children are caused by an infection, high levels of stress or anxiety, or minor head trauma. That's why it's important to pay attention to your child's headache symptoms and to consult a doctor if the headache worsens or occurs frequently. Headaches in children can usually be treated with over-the-counter pain medications and other lifestyle and home measures.
Children get the same types of headaches that adults do, although their symptoms may be different. For example, a migraine in an adult almost always affects just one side of the head, whereas a child's migraine often affects both sides of the head. In addition, headache symptoms in children don't always meet the full criteria for a specific type of headache. As a result, it may be difficult to pinpoint a specific type of headache in a child, especially in a younger child who isn't able to adequately describe his or her symptoms. As a child grows into adolescence and adulthood, headache symptoms may evolve, as well.
In general, though, certain symptoms tend to fall more frequently under certain categories.
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. Migraines in children may last an hour or more.
Telltale signs in younger children may include withdrawal from regular play and a desire to sleep more. Tension-type headaches can last from 30 minutes to several days.
Chronic daily headache
When to see a doctor
A number of factors, singly or in combination, can cause your child to develop headache. Some of these factors include:
Any child can develop headaches, but they're more common in:
Preparing for your appointment
For headaches in children, you typically make an appointment with your family doctor or your child's pediatrician. Depending on the frequency and severity of your child's symptoms, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in conditions of the brain and nervous system (neurologist).
Because appointments can be brief and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it can help to be well prepared. Here are some tips to help you get ready for your child's appointment and what to expect from the doctor.
What you can do
List your questions from most important to least important in case your time with your doctor runs out. For headaches in children, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Also, consider giving your child over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) to ease symptoms. 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. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
Tests and diagnosis
To learn about the nature of your child's headache, your doctor will likely recommend the following steps:
If your child is otherwise healthy and headache is the only symptom, no further testing usually is needed. In a few cases, however, imaging scans and other evaluations are needed to pinpoint a diagnosis or to rule out other medical conditions that could be causing the headaches. These tests may include:
Treatments and drugs
Most of the time, you can treat your child's headache at home with rest, decreased noise, plenty of fluids, balanced meals and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. If your child is older and has frequent headaches, learning to relax and manage stress through different forms of therapy may help, as well.
Caution: Overuse of medications is itself a contributing factor to headache (rebound headache). Over time, painkillers and other medications may lose their effectiveness. In addition, all medications have side effects. If your child takes medications regularly, including products you buy over-the-counter, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), are usually effective in reducing headache pain. Before giving your child pain medication, keep these points in mind:
In addition to OTC pain medications, the following measures can help ease your child's headache:
The following may help you prevent headaches or reduce the severity of headaches in children:
Last Updated: 2011-03-03
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