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Headaches in Children

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What is a headache?

A headache is pain in your child’s face or head. Headaches occur in 25% of young children and 75% of adolescents. In fact, it is one of the five most common diseases in children. Headaches are very common in both adults and children and there are more than 150 types. These types generally fall into four categories:


Migraines are episodic (occurring several times a month), with severe headaches in which your child experiences sensitivity to light and noise, followed by nausea and vomiting. Migraine may be hereditary. Approximately 60% of people with migraine have a close family member (mother, father, sister, and/or brother) who also has migraine.

tension headaches

There are four types of tension headaches  :

Episodic tension headache  : It is a headache that lasts less than 15 days per month.

Chronic tension headache  : Headache that lasts more than 15 days per month.

Daily tension headache  : Headaches that occur every day.

Chronic, non-progressive headache  : Headaches that occur every day or several times a month, but do not involve the extra symptoms of migraine.

Mixed headache syndrome/chronic migraine/transformed migraine

This type of headache is a combination of migraine and chronic, non-progressive tension headache. If your child experiences headaches with migraine symptoms more than 15 days a month, he may be experiencing this type of headache.

Traction and inflammatory headaches

These headaches may be caused by a disease or brain disorder that children have. There may possibly be a brain tumor or bleeding in the brain.

How common are headaches in children?

Headaches are common in children. 20% of children ages 5 to 17 reported experiencing headaches. The most common types of headaches in this age group are tension headaches (reported at 15%) and migraine (reported at 5%).

Many parents worry that their child’s headache is a sign of a brain tumor or serious medical condition. However, less than 3% of headaches are the result of these disorders. Most headaches in children are the result of stress and lifestyle issues.

Which children are more likely to get headaches?

If your child has a family member who suffers from primary headaches, this puts them at higher risk. Children with high levels of stress are also more likely to suffer from this condition.

How do headaches affect my child’s brain? Will they harm my child’s brain?

Headaches do not cause brain damage. They do not negatively affect your child’s brain.

How do headaches in children differ from headaches in adults?

Children’s headaches differ from adults in the following ways:

Headaches in children usually don’t last that long (between two hours and 72 hours).

Children feel pain all over their head rather than just one side or part.

Stomach complaints such as abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea are more common in children.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of headache in children?

Symptoms vary depending on the type of headache your child has:

acute headaches

Acute headache symptoms appear suddenly and do not last very long. Symptoms include:

Sharp, throbbing pain.

Pain in their head, neck or face.

Acute recurring headaches or migraines

This type of headache lasts one to two hours and usually occurs two to four times a month.

Pain affecting the front or both sides of the head.

Pale skin color (pallor).

Stomach upset, nausea and vomiting.


Sensitivity to light, noise or odors.



Blurred vision.

Desire to sleep more than usual.

Chronic non-progressive headaches or tension headaches

These are daily or frequent headaches or headaches that come and go over a long period of time without causing neurological symptoms. If it lasts more than 15 days a month, along with frequent school absences and excessive medication use, consult a doctor. Symptoms include:

Pain or pressure in a “band” on the forehead.

Chronic progressive headaches

The frequency of headaches is increasing.

The severity of headaches is gradually increasing.

When chronic progressive headaches occur along with other neurological symptoms (such as weakness, balance problems, and visual disturbances), they may be a sign of brain disorders such as abnormal fluid accumulation in the brain (hydrocephalus), inflammation of the brain, and other neurological symptoms. brain, tumor or other conditions.

What causes headaches in children?

There are many possible causes of headaches in children. These include, but are not limited to:

Simple illnesses such as flu, infection or fever.

Sinus infection.

Sore throat .

Ear infections.

Head trauma.

Stress .


Depression .

Blood pressure.

Exercising too much (happens to athletes, for example).

Rare meningitis (infection or inflammation of the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord).

Rare encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

Rare bleeding (bleeding in the brain).

Tumor (abnormal tissue mass), which is also rare.

Are headaches a sign that my child has juvenile diabetes?

Although a headache is not a usual symptom of diabetes, it may indicate that your child has low blood sugar, which itself is a symptom of diabetes .

Diagnosis and Tests

How are headaches diagnosed in children?

To evaluate and diagnose headaches, your doctor will need to perform a physical examination. They will check things like:



Muscle Weakness.

Balance problems.

Vision problems.

They will also interview you and your child. It may be helpful to keep a diary of your child’s experiences leading up to your appointment. This can help with the interview process. Your child’s doctor may ask a variety of questions, such as:

When did the headaches start?

How long have you been having headaches?

How often do they happen?

What triggers a headache? For example, do certain foods, situations, physical activity, or medications cause headaches?

Who else in the family has headaches?

Are there any notable symptoms that occur between headaches? 

For example, does your child also experience weakness, changes in vision, or loss of consciousness?

Are headaches preventing your child from going to school? 

Are they bothering your child at school?

How do headaches affect your child’s quality of life? 

Do they spend a lot of time in bed? 

Do they miss playing with their friends?

Where is pain located?

How does pain feel?

How long does the pain last?

What makes pain feel better?

At what time of day does your child have a headache?

Do headaches occur suddenly?

Is there an aura before the headache? 

Are they experiencing changes in vision or blind spots? 

Do they see bright lights or experience numbness and tingling?

What other symptoms occur simultaneously with the headache? 

Examples include fatigue, nausea, sensitivity to light or noise, decreased appetite, and changes in attitude or behavior.

What treatments have you tried at home? Medication? Ice packs? House lights etc. was it closed?

Have you talked to other healthcare professionals about your headaches?

What tests can help diagnose headaches in children?

Your child’s doctor may order imaging tests to find out what’s causing the headaches. These tests may include:

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

MRA (magnetic resonance imaging of the arteries).

CT scan (computed tomography).

Management and Treatment

How to treat headaches in children and adolescents?

When treating headaches in children, your doctor keeps the following in mind:

Your child’s age.    

Type of headache.

How often do headaches occur?

The cause of your child’s headache.

There are four main treatments for your child’s headaches. Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:


2. Headache education.

3.Lifestyle changes.

4.Stress Management.


Depending on the suspected cause, your child may need medication to:

headache education

Your doctor can tell your child about specific headache triggers. Common triggers include:

•Lack of sleep.

•Specific foods.

•Caffeinated beverages (tea, coffee, soda).


•Nitrates (lunch meats, ham, bacon, sausage, pepperoni, hot dogs).

•Aged cheeses (foods containing tyramine, such as pizza).

•Foods containing MSG.

lifestyle changes

Bad lifestyle habits can cause headaches. To reduce the risk of headaches, make sure your child gets:

•Eight hours of sleep every night.

•Minimum 10 glasses of water every day.

•Three healthy meals every day.

•Cardio exercise (45 minutes three times a week).


Stress Management

Learning relaxation techniques may help reduce the pain and/or frequency of your child’s headaches. Stress management techniques may include:

•Deep breathing exercises.

•Mindfulness or meditation.

•Mental imagery relaxation.

•Music therapy.


Who will treat my child’s headache? Will they need to see a specialist doctor?

Your child’s doctor may refer them to the following specialists:

•Headache specialist.

•Ophthalmologist (vision problems).

•ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist for balance problems).

•Gastroenterologist (for stomach problems).

• Psychologist  or  psychiatrist  (for stress and emotions).


How to prevent headaches in children?

Avoiding triggers and taking preventive medications can help reduce the risk of headaches. Ask your doctor which medications are most effective for your child.

How can my child prevent headache triggers?

Every child is unique and so are their triggers. One goal is to identify what triggers cause headaches and then prevent headaches by avoiding them. Again, the most common triggers are:

•Lack of sleep.

•Specific foods.

•Caffeinated beverages (tea, coffee, soda).


What is the outlook for children experiencing headaches?

Headaches can affect your child in various ways. They can reduce the quality of life at school and at home. But avoiding common triggers and finding appropriate treatment can significantly improve your child’s quality of life.

When can my child return to school/nursery?

Discuss the severity and frequency of headaches with your child’s doctor. They may have recommendations regarding school/nursery. Also inform your child’s teachers and caregivers about their condition.

Live together

Can children get rid of headaches?

As your child grows, headaches may disappear. However, they can return to their lives later.

When should I take my child to the doctor?

•When your child has more than an occasional headache.

•When your child’s headaches are severe.

•When your child’s headache occurs suddenly.

When should I take my child to the emergency room?

If any of the following symptoms occur at the same time as a headache, do not hesitate to go to the emergency room:


•Persistent diarrhea or vomiting.

•Vision loss.

•Consciousness, confusion.




•Shortness of breath.

•Stiff neck.

•Any changes in the ears, throat, eyes or nose.

What questions should I ask my child’s doctor about headaches?

•What type of headache does my child have?

•What is the best treatment?

•What should I keep track of in my headache diary?

•What is the best way to reduce my child’s stress?

•Are there any home remedies I can try?

•Which specialist should my child see?

•Which medications are best?

•What should I tell my child’s teacher about his situation?

•How can I best help my child?

A note from your doctor

Remember, it is not uncommon for a child to experience a headache. Although they occur frequently, interfere with your child’s life, and are very painful, headaches do not cause permanent damage to the brain and are very unlikely to be a brain tumor. If your child is struggling with headaches, make an appointment with your doctor immediately. Be sure to keep track of your child’s medications and lifestyle changes. They will need your help to get the best treatment.