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Kids, not just adults, get headaches, too. Luckily, very few headaches are caused by serious conditions, such as a tumors, infections, or a head injury. Regardless, common headaches can be very painful and distracting for children.

Childhood Headache Tips for Parents
Pay Attention to a Headache

Although some kids will feign headaches or tummy aches to avoid things they don’t want to do (like go to school), most childhood headaches are real. Some children have migraines and others have tension-type headaches. Migraines can be triggered by stress, food, or environmental factors, such as noise or bright lights. Tension-type headaches can be a response to stress or challenges at school, home, work, or among friends.

Find Headache Relief

Take your child to the doctor for help with headaches. Your child may need medication or changes in his daily routine, such as diet, exercise, and rest. If over time, your doctor is not able to treat or manage the headaches, ask for a referral to a pediatric neurologist or headache specialist.

Your child may also be referred to a therapist. Therapy may reduce the length and frequency of migraine headaches. It may be used with or without medication and may include cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, or relaxation methods.

Gum chewing has also been shown to cause headaches in children. If your child chews gum excessively, you may want to encourage ending the habit.

Take It Easy

Kids who get headaches can participate in most activities, but sometimes it will be best to just take it easy. If your child has headaches, try not to overcommit him to too many activities. Leave some time for rest and relaxation. Overall, kids who get headaches will benefit from balanced, nutritious meals (especially breakfast), regular sleep patterns (including a full night’s sleep), and exercise. Although exercise may help relieve tension, it may not be a good idea for your child to exert himself during a headache.

Tell Teachers and School Staff

Your child spends most of the day at school, so you need to make teachers and school staff aware of your child’s headaches. Have your doctor write a note explaining any medications and special instructions, such as rest or recovery periods. Make sure that your child is allowed to take his medication when needed. Migraines, for example, should be treated as soon as your child senses one coming on. Waiting until class ends is likely to lead to a much more severe migraine and a longer recovery period. Children with headaches may need to miss school, but if your child missing school often, you should seek further medical attention.

The Headache Diary

If your child has headaches, encourage him to keep a headache diary to help recognize when and why the headaches happen. Take this information to your child’s doctor because it will help to determine the cause of the headaches and create a treatment or prevention plan.

The National Headache Foundation suggests the following questions for your child’s headache diary:

  • What does the headache feel like?
  • Where is the pain located?
  • Does your headache appear without warning or are there signs of it coming, such as weakness, nausea, dizziness, or sensitivity to light or noise?
  • Do you see bright lights, blind spots, or changes in vision?
  • Do headaches occur after eating certain foods or drinking certain beverages (eg, soft drinks with caffeine, pizza, or chocolate)?
  • Do certain situations, events, or physical activity produce a headache?
  • When do the headaches occur—once a week, twice a week, once a month?
  • Does anyone else in your family have headaches?

When Is Further Evaluation Necessary?

Most headaches in children are due to migraine, muscle tension, or other benign causes and rarely need more evaluation than a careful history and physical examination. Headaches may, however, be a symptom of serious health problems and need further study. Every child’s headache needs to be evaluated individually. But, in general, the following symptoms justify further evaluation:

  • Weakness, visual or speech difficulties, or a change in personality
  • Vomiting in association with headaches
  • Headaches that awaken a child in the morning
  • Headaches associated with abnormal findings on a doctor’s physical exam
  • Headaches in association with excessive urination or unusually early development of puberty (or failure to menstruate when expected)
  • Headaches that worsen steadily in severity or frequency over days or weeks, change in a long-established pattern of headache, or the onset of a “worst ever” severe headache
  • Headache associated with depression or anxiety (Further evaluation generally focuses on the anxiety or depression unless headaches meet one or more of the criteria above.)

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics
http://www.aap.org/

National Headache Foundation
http://www.headaches.org/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Headache Network Canada
http://www.headachenetwork.ca/

Help for Headaches
http://www.headache-help.org/

References:

Children's headaches: an informative guide for young sufferers, their parents, and school health professionals. National Headache Foundation website. Available at: http://www.headaches.org/educational_modules/childrensheadache/chhome.html. Accessed June 18, 2012.

Headaches. Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/aches/headache.html. Accessed June 18, 2012.

1/2/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Powers SW, Kashikar-Zuck SM, et al. Cognitive behavioral therapy plus amitriptyline for chronic migraine in children and adolescents: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2013 Dec 25;310(24):2622-30.

1/2/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Huquet A, McGrath PJ, et al. Efficacy of psychological treatment for headaches: an overview of systematic reviews and analysis of potential modifiers of treatment efficacy. Clin J Pain. 2013. Jul 2.

1/2/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Watemberg N, Matar M, et al. The influence of excessive chewing gum use on headache frequency and severity among adolescents. Pediatr Neurol. 2014 Jan;50(1):69-72.



Last reviewed June 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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