Headaches in Children

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Your child may have headaches due to:

  • Stress
  • Poor sleep
  • Head injury
  • Family history of migraines

Types of Headaches

Tension headache 

This most common type of headache can stem from stress as well as emotional conflict, presenting with:

  • Pain that starts slowly
  • Head hurting on both sides
  • Dull pain
  • A band of pain around the head
  • Pain in the back part of the head or neck
  • Mild to moderate pain
  • Change in the child's sleep habits 

Migraine

While children’s migraines may cause similar symptoms to an adult’s, kids more often also have abdominal migraine, causing pain, nausea and vomiting in the stomach area.

Migraines often start with an aura, a set of symptoms that occur before the headache, including seeing flashing lights, a change in vision or odd smells. The headache itself can cause:

  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Pain that may be throbbing or pounding
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Sweating
  • Child looking pale and being quiet

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches occur together in batches that may go away for long stretches of time, even years. These headaches cause:

  • Severe pain on one side of the head, usually behind one eye
  • The eye that is affected may have a droopy lid, small pupil, or redness and swelling of the eyelid
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Swelling of the forehead

Secondary Headaches

Parents may wonder if headaches signal the presence of a serious condition or disease. These kinds of headaches, called secondary headaches, occur very rarely. Symptoms to watch for:

  • Headaches that start very early in the morning
  • Pain that is made worse by coughing or sneezing
  • Sudden onset of pain
  • Severe pain and/or pain that wakes your child up
  • Headaches growing more severe or continuous
  • Personality changes
  • Changes in vision
  • Weakness in the arms or legs, or balance problems
  • Seizures or epilepsy
  • Recurrent episodes of vomiting without nausea or other signs of a stomach virus
  • A very young child with a headache

Treating a Child’s Headache

Tracking your child’s headaches can help you and your child understand what headache triggers to avoid. You may find it possible to reduce or alleviate your child’s headaches through diet and rest, or by helping your child manage stress and get enough exercise.

Rest and sleep usually provide headache relief for young children.

Over-the-counter analgesics for pain may provide your child some relief. Your provider may also prescribe triptans for recurring migraines.

Seek treatment if your child’s headaches increase in pain or frequency, or new symptoms develop.