Does your child have a headache?

headache in children

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Last updated:
07/09/2021

“Did your child just start experiencing headaches? They can often be fairly mild or seem to come out of nowhere, but it’s important to remember that they’re not the same as a migraine headache. It’s important to take your child’s symptoms seriously and make sure you find out what causes their headaches.

A tension headache is when muscles in the head become stressed and spasm, which causes pain around the temples or eyes. A migraine headache is similar but typically brought on by an irritation in a nerve leading from one part of the head to another. It usually starts with severe throbbing pain that moves around the head or neck. Migraine headaches can be so severe that they interfere with normal activities.

Knowing the different types of headaches is important, but so is knowing what causes them. The causes of a headache in children vary widely and can often be related to stress, diet, lack of sleep or even intense exercise. It’s also possible that your child may have an underlying problem that’s causing their headaches if it isn’t something you notice right away.

It’s not always easy to spot what your child’s triggers are, but getting to know your own child well can help you figure out what might be causing their headaches. You’ll know a lot more about your child’s headaches and be able to find the right treatments if you learn more about them.

For many children, certain foods and recreational activities can cause or worsen headaches. These include anything that uses caffeine, chocolate, alcohol (if they have difficulty sleeping), and foods such as onions or pickles that your child is allergic to. Chronic migraines may also be related to certain medicines, such as antidepressants; or conditions such as sleep apnea or food poisoning.

If you’re not sure what causes a headache in your child there may be tests that can help determine the root cause. They include imaging tests like an MRI and blood tests for diabetes, cholesterol or other issues.

It’s important to remember that the cause of a headache is less important than finding the right treatment. For some children, painkillers may be all they need, but others need extra help with sleeping if they’re having problems falling asleep or staying asleep. And migraine-related issues can often be treated with sleep aids such as antihistamines, but in some cases your child will need an evaluation at a pediatric neurologist or pediatric headache specialist.

What Are the Major Types of Headaches?

There’s no one type of headache that all children have, but there are several different kinds your child may have. They include:

  • Cluster headaches.
    These occur when a group of nerve cells in one part of the brain are irritated, causing muscle spasms on the front side of the head or temple. This pain often occurs in cycles lasting less than an hour and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Cluster headaches tend to get worse in summer, when they’re more common and can be very frightening for children.
  • Migraine headaches.
    These are severe headaches that occur when one of the blood vessels in the brain becomes swollen or a tiny bit of tissue near the vessel wall gets inflamed. Usually, this produces a throbbing pain on one side of the head, lasting for hours or even days. It can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, visual disturbances, sensitivity to light and sound, and sometimes numbness in the face or limbs. Children with migraines are often sensitive to certain foods or smells and may get symptoms before a headache starts such as “”aura,”” in which they may see flashing lights or stars. Seizures . Seizures can be a cause of dizziness and imbalance when they occur suddenly, especially at night or while playing. Sometimes seizures cause convulsions, called tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures. These can be scary for children and can be difficult to distinguish from a real seizure.
  • Head injury.
    If there is any bleeding in the brain or head trauma changes the way the brain works, it’s possible that your child will develop headaches. For example, a concussion can cause headaches or dizziness, or head injuries from accidents such as being hit by a motor vehicle or falling downstairs can lead to headaches. Children who have experienced a concussion may also complain of nausea or vomiting.

If there is any bleeding in the brain or head trauma changes the way the brain works, it’s possible that your child will develop headaches. For example, a concussion can cause headaches or dizziness, or head injuries from accidents such as being hit by a motor vehicle or falling downstairs can lead to headaches. Children who have experienced a concussion may also complain of nausea or vomiting.

  • Trigeminal neuralgia .
    This is a pain in the cheek or chin that’s caused by a problem with one of the nerves coming from the face to the brain. It’s a rare condition that affects one in 200 children, but it can be very painful.
  • Tension headaches.
    These are most commonly seen in adults and usually happen when you’re over-tired and falling asleep at night. They also can happen when you’re anxious or stressed out.

If you have any concerns about your child’s headaches, it’s important to talk with their doctor—and also your pediatrician—to find out whether there are any underlying conditions that might require treatment or changes in regular care.”

Learn more about causes, symptoms, medicines and home treatment for Headaches in Children