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Headaches in Children

Headaches in Children


What you need to know about
Headaches in Children

Children’s headaches are common and typically not significant. Children, like adults, can suffer from a variety of headaches, including migraines and stress-related (tension) headaches. Chronic everyday headaches can also affect children.

Adults aren’t the only ones who suffer from headaches. They affect around 1 in every 5 school-aged children and teenagers. Tension headaches are the most prevalent type of headache in children. However, roughly 5% of youngsters, some as young as four years old, suffer from migraine headaches.

Infections, high amounts of stress or worry, or slight head trauma can all induce headaches in youngsters. It’s critical to pay attention to your child’s headache symptoms and get medical help if the headache becomes more severe or occurs frequently.

Children’s headaches are commonly managed with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers and good behaviours like resting and eating on a regular schedule.

You might be concerned that your child’s headache is a symptom of something more serious, such as a brain tumour. However, this isn’t true for the majority of childhood headaches. Track your child’s symptoms and speak with their doctor to put your concerns to rest. You can work together to identify therapies and teach your child how to feel well.


Children get the same sorts of headaches as adults, although their symptoms may change slightly. Migraine pain, for example, usually lasts at least four hours in adults, although it may not last as long in children.

Differences in symptoms can make it difficult to identify a headache type in a child, especially if the child is young and unable to express his or her symptoms. However, certain symptoms seem to fall into particular groups more commonly than others.


Migraines can result in:

  • Headache that is pulsating or throbbing
  • Pain that worsens as a result of physical activity
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Extreme light and sound sensitivity

Migraines can affect anyone, including children. If a child is too little to tell you what’s wrong, he or she may cry or rock back and forth in agony.

Tension headache

Tension headaches can lead to:

  • A pressing stiffness in the head or neck muscles
  • Pain on both sides of the head that is mild to moderate and non-pulsating
  • Pain that isn’t made any worse by physical activity
  • Headache that isn’t accompanied by nausea or vomiting, as migraine headaches frequently are.

Younger children may become less interested in daily play and choose to sleep more. Tension headaches can last anywhere between 30 minutes and many days.

Chronic daily headache

Children under the age of ten are unlikely to experience cluster headaches. Typically, they:

  • Usually in groups of five or more occurrences, with one headache every other day to eight a day.
  • Sharp, stabbing pain on one side of the head for less than three hours
  • Are there tears, congestion, a runny nose, restlessness or agitation?

Cluster headache

Migraines and tension-type headaches that last more than 15 days a month are referred to as “chronic daily headaches” (CDH) by doctors. CDH can be caused by an infection, a mild head injury, or overuse of pain drugs, including over-the-counter pain relievers.


Your child’s doctor will check them and ask them questions about their headaches, such as the sort of pain, how often they occur, and whether anything helps or worsens them. You’ll need to be as specific as possible with yourself and your youngster.

This information usually allows the clinician to make a diagnosis. They may require a CT scan or an MRI to obtain additional information. These imaging techniques produce precise images of the brain that can reveal any parts of the brain that may be causing headaches.

Your doctor would most likely use the following sources to determine the cause of your child’s headache:

  • History of headaches. Your doctor will ask you and your child to explain the headaches in detail in order to determine if there is a pattern or a common cause. Your doctor may also urge you to keep a headache journal for a period of time so that you can keep track of more information regarding your child’s headaches, such as the frequency, severity, and likely triggers.
  • Examination of the body. The doctor will undertake a physical examination of your child, which will include measuring his or her height, weight, head circumference, blood pressure, and pulse, as well as inspecting his or her eyes, neck, head, and spine.
  • Examination of the nervous system. Your doctor will examine you for any mobility, coordination, or feeling issues.

If your child is otherwise healthy and the headaches are the only symptom, there is usually no need for further testing. Imaging scans and other tests, on the other hand, can sometimes assist narrow down a diagnosis or ruling out other medical illnesses that could be causing the headaches. These tests may involve the following:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of imaging that (MRI). A strong magnet is used in MRIs to provide detailed pictures of the brain. Doctors use MRI scans to diagnose tumours, strokes, aneurysms, neurological illnesses, and other abnormalities in the brain. The blood arteries that supply the brain can also be examined using an MRI.
  • CT scan is a type of computerised tomography. A sequence of computer-directed X-rays is used to create a cross-sectional image of your child’s brain during this imaging procedure. This aid will help your doctor in the detection of tumours, infections, and other medical conditions that might cause headaches.
  • Spinal Tap (lumbar puncture). If your doctor feels that your child’s headaches are caused by an underlying disease, such as bacterial or viral meningitis, he or she may recommend a spinal tap (lumbar puncture). A tiny needle is placed between two lower back vertebrae to retrieve a sample of cerebrospinal fluid for laboratory analysis in this procedure.

You and your doctor can collaborate on a treatment plan to help your child feel better once your doctor knows the sort of headache he or she is experiencing.

Headaches in Children and Adolescents, What Causes Them?

Around 7 out of 10 children who suffer from migraines have a parent, sibling, or another family member who suffers from them. Fatigue, strong lights, and changes in the weather are all possible triggers for their assaults.

Your child’s headaches might be caused by a variety of circumstances. Factors to consider include:

  • Illness and infection. Colds, flu, ear and sinus infections and other common ailments are among the most common causes of headaches in children. Meningitis or encephalitis can produce headaches in rare cases.
  • Trauma to the head. Headaches can be caused by bumps and bruising. Although most head injuries are minor, if your child falls hard on his or her head or is hit hard in the head, seek immediate medical assistance. Also, if your child’s head discomfort continues to worsen after a head injury, contact your doctor.
  • Emotional stress. Children’s headaches can be caused by stress and worry, which can be prompted by issues with peers, teachers, or parents. Headaches are common in children with depression, especially if they have problems recognising emotions of melancholy and loneliness.
  • Genetic predisposition. Migraines, in particular, are known to run in families. Certain meals and beverages are prohibited. Nitrates, a food preservative present in cured meats like bacon, bologna, and hot dogs, as well as the food additive MSG, can cause headaches. Caffeine, which is found in soda, chocolates, and sports drinks, can also produce headaches.
  • Issues with the brain. A brain tumour, abscess, or bleeding in the brain can press on brain areas, resulting in a chronic, intensifying headache. Other symptoms, such as vision difficulties, dizziness, and lack of coordination, are common in these circumstances.
  • Hormonal changes. Girls can suffer them as a result of hormonal changes during their periods. Menstrual migraine is the name for this type of headache.

The majority of headaches are harmless. However, if they worsen over time and occur in conjunction with other symptoms, they may indicate a more serious problem.

When to call a doctor

The majority of headaches aren’t serious, but if your child’s headaches are:

  • Your child should be awakened
  • Worsen or increase in frequency
  • Change your child’s personality for the better
  • After an injury to the head, such as a hit to the head
  • Symptoms include continuous vomiting and visual abnormalities
  • Are accompanied by a fever and stiffness or pain in the neck

If you’re concerned or have questions about your child’s headaches, talk to his or her doctor.

Preparing for an appointment

Usually, you schedule an appointment with your family GP. You may be sent to a doctor who specialises in the brain and nervous system issues, known as a neurologist, depending on the frequency and severity of your child’s symptoms.

Here’s some information to help you prepare for your child’s checkup and anticipate what the GP may say.

What you can do

  • Make a list of your child’s signs and symptoms, as well as when and how long they lasted. Keeping a headache journal— noting down each headache, when it occurs, how long it lasts, and what might have caused it — may be beneficial.
  • Make a list of all of your child’s prescriptions, vitamins, and supplements.
  • Make a list of questions you want to ask your doctor.

Some fundamental questions to ask your doctor about headaches in children include:

  • Which of the following is the most likely source of the symptoms?
  • Are there any tests that need to be done to confirm the diagnosis?
  • What treatments are available, and which ones would you suggest?
  • Is my child in need of prescription medication, or will over-the-counter medication suffice?
  • What, if any, follow-up is required?
  • What can we do at home to alleviate the discomfort?
  • What can we do to prevent headaches at home?

What to anticipate from your doctor

Your doctor will most likely ask you a series of questions, such as:

  • When did the symptoms begin? Have they altered over time?
  • How often does your child experience the headache?
  • What is the average duration of the headache?
  • Where does the pain persist?
  • Have the symptoms been ongoing or sporadic?
  • Are there any other symptoms, such as nausea or dizziness?
  • Is there anything that helps your child’s symptoms?
  • Is there anything that aggravates the symptoms?
  • What kind of treatments have you already tried?
  • What medication is your child take?
  • Is there a family history of headaches?

In the meantime, there are a few things you can do

If your child has a headache, place a cold, moist cloth on his or her forehead and advise him or her to relax in a dark, quiet area until you can visit the GP.

To relieve symptoms, give your child over-the-counter pain relievers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Aspirin should never be given to children or teenagers who are recuperating from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms. This is because aspirin has been associated with Reye’s syndrome in children, a rare but potentially fatal illness. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor.


Rest, reduced noise, plenty of water, balanced meals, and OTC pain medicines are usually effective for treating your child’s headache at home. If your child is older and suffers from headaches frequently, learning to relax and control stress via various forms of treatment may also be beneficial.


  • Pain remedies Over-the-counter. Paracetamol or ibuprofen are commonly used to treat headaches in children. They should be taken as soon as a headache appears. Aspirin should never be given to children or teenagers who are recuperating from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms. In such youngsters, aspirin has been associated with Reye’s syndrome, an uncommon but potentially fatal illness. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor.
  • Medications that require a prescription. Sumatriptan, which are prescription medications used to treat migraines, are effective and safe for children over the age of six. If your child has headaches that cause nausea and vomiting, your doctor may prescribe an anti-nausea medication. However, the pharmaceutical method varies from child to child. Inquire with your doctor or pharmacist about anti-nausea medications.

Caution: Taking too many medicines can cause headaches, this is known as medication overuse headache. Pain killers and other medications may lose their effectiveness over time. Furthermore, all medications have negative side effects. If your child uses pharmaceuticals on a regular basis, including OTC products, talk to your doctor about the dangers and benefits.


While stress does not appear to be a cause of headaches, it might function as a trigger or exacerbate an existing headache. Depression may also be a factor. Your doctor may offer one or more behaviour therapies in these instances, such as:

  • Relaxation exercises. Deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation, in which you tension one muscle at a time, are all relaxation techniques. Then you let go of the tension fully until every muscle in your body is relaxed. An older child can learn relaxation techniques from books or movies in class or at home.
  • Biofeedback. Biofeedback teaches your child how to control specific bodily responses, which might help them cope with discomfort. Your child is attached to equipment that monitors and provides feedback on physiological processes such as muscular tension, heart rate, and blood pressure during a biofeedback session. Your youngster will then learn to relax his or her muscles and calm down his or her pulse rate and respiration. The purpose of biofeedback is to assist your child in entering a relaxed state so that he or she can better manage pain.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This therapy can assist your child in learning to handle stress and reducing headache frequency and severity. A counsellor assists your child in learning good ways to view and cope with life experiences through this sort of talk therapy.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Paracetamol or ibuprofen, and other OTC pain relievers, are usually useful in relieving headache discomfort. Keep the following in mind before giving your child pain medication:

  • Read labels carefully and only give your child the dosages that are indicated.
  • Do not exceed the specified dosing frequency.
  • Give your youngster OTC pain relievers just two or three times each week. Medication overuse headaches are a form of headache induced by using too many pain relievers on a regular basis.
  • Aspirin should never be given to children or teenagers who are recuperating from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms. This is because aspirin has been associated with Reye’s syndrome in children, a rare but potentially fatal illness. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor.

In addition to over-the-counter pain relievers, the following items can alleviate your child’s headache:

  • Relaxation and rest. Encourage your youngster to sleep in a quiet, darkroom. Children’s headaches are frequently relieved by sleeping.
  • Apply a cool, damp compress. Place a cool, moist cloth on your child’s forehead while he or she is sleeping.
  • Nutritious snacks. Offer a piece of fruit, whole-wheat crackers, or low-fat cheese if your child hasn’t eaten in a while. Headaches can become worse if you don’t eat.

Alternative medicine

A number of dietary supplements have been suggested to aid children with headaches, despite the fact that they haven’t been thoroughly researched. These include:

  • Riboflavin
  • Magnesium
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Vitamin D

Before attempting any herbal products or dietary supplements, make sure they won’t conflict with your child’s medication or have any negative side effects.

Children’s headaches may benefit from a variety of alternative treatments, including:

  • Acupuncture. Acupuncturists utilise incredibly thin, disposable needles that cause very little pain or discomfort. According to some studies, this therapy may help alleviate headache symptoms.
  • Massage. Massage can assist to relieve stress and tension, as well as headaches.

Risk factors

Headaches can affect any child, although they’re more common in:

  • Adolescent, Post puberty girls.
  • Children with a history of headaches or migraines in their family
  • Teenagers in their later years


The following tips may help avoid or lessen the severity of headaches in children:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Your child’s headaches may be prevented by engaging in behaviours that promote overall health. Getting enough sleep, being physically active, eating healthy meals and snacks, drinking up to eight glasses of water each day, and limiting caffeine are all examples of lifestyle measures.
  • Reduce your stress levels. Headaches may become more frequent as a result of stress and hectic activities. Be on the lookout for signs of stress in your child’s life, such as trouble completing schoolwork or strained peer relationships. Consult a counsellor if your child’s headaches are linked to anxiety or depression.
  • Keeping a headache journal. A headache journal can assist you in determining the source of your child’s headaches. Keep track of when the headaches begin, how long they continue, and what, if anything, helps to relieve them.
  • Keep track of your child’s reaction to any headache medicine. The items you record in the headache journal should help you better understand your child’s symptoms over time, allowing you to take targeted preventive steps.
  • Stay away from headache-inducing triggers. Avoid any foods or beverages that seem to cause headaches, such as those containing caffeine. Your headache diary can help you figure out what causes your child’s headaches so you can avoid them in the future.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions. If your child’s headaches are severe, occur on a regular basis, and interfere with his or her normal activities, your doctor may prescribe preventive medication. Certain antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and beta-blockers, when taken at regular intervals, may help to lessen the frequency and intensity of headaches.