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How to treat headaches in children

Why Your Child Gets Headaches and How to Treat Them

A headache is a symptom and usually does not signal a serious health problem. In fact, 50% to 75% of all teens report having at least one headache per month. However, more frequent headaches can be upsetting and worrisome for you and your family. The most common headaches for teenagers are tension headaches and migraines. Sometimes these problems may be associated with health concerns that require a visit to your pediatrician.

What Causes Headaches?

Your child may have one or several of the following:

  • Illness – Headaches often are a symptom of other illnesses. Viral infections, strep throat, allergies, sinus infections and urinary tract infections can be accompanied by headaches. Fever may also be associated with headaches.
  • Skipping Meals – Children and teens need to eat at regular intervals and drink at least 6- 8 glasses of water per day. Frequent skipping of meals or not keeping up with fluid losses can lead to headaches
  • Drugs – Alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, diet pills and other drugs may give you a headache.
  • Prescribed Medications – Sometimes headaches can also be caused by prescribed medication, such as birth control pills, tetracycline for acne and high doses of vitamin A.
  • Headaches can also be caused by sleep problems, minor head injuries or certain foods (dairy products, chocolate, and food additives like nitrates, nitrites and monosodium glutamate).

Types of Headaches

  • Tension headaches often feel like a tight band is around your head. The pain is dull and aching and usually will be felt on both sides of your head, but may be in front and back as well.  Pressure at school or at home, arguments with parents or friends, having too much to do and feeling anxious or depressed can all lead to a headache.
  • Migraines often are described as throbbing and usually are felt on only one side of your head, but may be felt on both. A migraine may make you feel light-headed or dizzy and/or make your stomach upset. You may see spots or be sensitive to light, sounds and smells. If you get migraines, chances are one of your parents or other family members also have had this problem. Migraines in women are very common during the pre-menstrual time of development
  • Psychogenic headaches are similar to tension headaches, but are caused by emotional problems such as depression. Signs of depression include loss of energy, poor appetite or overeating, loss of interest in usual activities, change in sleeping patterns and difficulty thinking or concentrating.

It is very helpful to keep track of your child’s symptoms to help identify steps to help your child feel better.

The following link includes a headache log that can help track symptoms – sharing it with us will help guide next steps to treatment:

The following links have great information about headaches: – information on different types of headaches – great ideas for relaxation and biofeedback techniques to help alleviate headaches

When to Call the Doctor

  • If the headaches begin to disrupt school, social or home life
  • If the headaches are after a head injury, particularly if they fainted after the hit
  • If the headaches are associated with seizures or fainting
  • If they get more than one headache a week
  • If the headache pain is severe and prevents them from doing activities they want to do
  • If the headaches wake them from sleep or occur in the early morning
  • If the headaches cause blurred vision, eye spots or other visual changes
  • If fever, vomiting, stiff neck, toothache or jaw pain accompany the headache


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