Headaches in children occur quite frequently, especially in adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. Children suffering from headaches can leave parents quite puzzled by the possible causes and the potential seriousness of the situation. While most headaches experienced by children are not serious, they can still have a big impact on your child’s life. Understanding the various symptoms and causes can help you identify the problem and point you towards the right direction for treatment.
There are two types of common headaches in children:
Tension headaches are most common among adolescents and can last for a short time or for several days. They occur mostly in the middle of the day. Tension headaches are caused by tightening of the muscles around the neck or head, resulting in the child feeling pain around the head. Although headaches can occur sporadically over a prolonged amount of time, they do not cause damage to the brain nor affect your child’s sight or strength. However, tension headaches become a more severe problem when your child experiences them almost daily. When this occurs, your child is considered to be suffering from Chronic Daily Headaches (CDH) and may need intervention from your pediatrician or physician.
Migraines headaches in adults are generally felt on one side of the head, while children can experience them on both sides. The pain is caused by blood vessels in the head which have been aggravated by an electrical wave. Most children suffering from CDH are likely diagnosed with migraine headaches as well. Some children are diagnosed as early as four years old. Before puberty, migraines are more common in boys, but after puberty, girls make up the majority of the patients. Children’s migraines can last for an hour or up to an entire day.
Some children start suffering from headaches so early in life that they might not be able to describe the pain. Therefore, it is up to the parents and caretakers to keep an eye on the child’s symptoms and seek the appropriate medical help when the child exhibits distressing symptoms such as the ones in the following lists.
There is no single cause for tension headaches. However, it is important to monitor your child when he or she is going through a particularly stressful time as tension headaches are usually caused by stress. For children, stress triggers come mostly from family, friends or school issues. Not enough rest, poor posture, or muscle injury can also be contributing factors.
Causes for migraine headaches are slightly more varied. Migraines can be a result of genetics and can also be triggered through many different factors such as food, weather, dehydration, exercise or chemical changes in the brain. If your child is suffering from migraine headaches, keep tabs on his or her activities to discover these triggers, especially since they are specific to each individual. Pressure in a child’s environment can also be a huge factor.
While headaches in children are common, it is important for parents to recognize when the situation becomes severe, more frequent or include unusual symptoms which can be the result of a serious neurological condition . Ignoring the symptoms can lead to depression, constant pain and discomfort for your child. You might also be ignoring the opportunity for early treatment for a deeper neurological issue. Consult a doctor immediately if your child is experiencing the following:
Each child can have different triggers and reactions to treatment. While the following tips can help manage a child’s headaches or prevent them, it will take some trial and error for you to determine which ones work best for you and your child.
The First class honours M.D., Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, 2000.