Headaches are common in children. As many as one-half of all schoolchildren experience some type of headache.
Although most headaches during childhood occur as part of a mild viral illness, some can be a warning sign of a more serious medical problem. Call your child's doctor if your child's headaches occur after head injury, or is accompanied by rash, fever, or sleepiness.
Some children may be susceptible to recurrent headaches, particularly migraine headaches or tension-type headaches. Headaches may be caused by a number of triggers, including emotional problems such as tension between family members, stress from school activities, weather changes, irregular eating and sleep, dehydration, and certain foods and drinks.
It may be difficult to identify the type of headache because children often have problems describing where it hurts, how often the headaches occur, and how long they last.
Asking a child with a headache to draw a picture of where the pain is and how it feels can make it easier for the doctor to determine the proper treatment.
Migraine Headaches in Children
Headaches that begin early in life can develop into migraines as the child grows older. In contrast to adults with migraines, young children often feel migraine pain on both sides of the head and have headaches that usually last less than 2 hours. Children may look pale and appear restless or irritable before and during an attack. Other children may become nauseous, lose their appetite, or feel pain elsewhere in the body during the headache.
Parents and caretakers sometimes have to be detectives to help determine that a child has migraine. Clues to watch for include sensitivity to light and noise, which may be suspected when a child refuses to watch television or use the computer, or when the child stops playing to lie down in a dark room. Observe whether or not a child is able to eat during a headache. Very young children may seem cranky or irritable and complain of abdominal pain (abdominal migraine).
Treatment of Headache in Children
Always consult with your child's doctor before giving him or her a medication for headaches.
Headache treatment in children and teens usually includes rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relief medicines, such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
Most tension-type headaches in children can be treated with over-the-counter medicines that are marked for children with usage guidelines based on the child's age and weight.
Children suffering from migraine headaches may benefit from having a medication to treat the acute symptoms of migraine, such as triptans. Triptans are the most commonly prescribed medication for migraines. Your child's doctor may also consider a medication to prevent the recurrence of migraine headaches, such as valproic acid or propranol.
Headaches in some children may also be treated effectively using relaxation/behavioral therapy.
Headaches Associated with Depression
Childhood headache can be a sign of depression. Parents should alert the child's doctor if a child develops headaches along with other symptoms such as a change in mood or sleep habits. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy are effective treatment options for childhood depression and related headache.
Reference: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
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