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Children’s Headaches

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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.

Headaches

There are two types of common headaches in children:

  1. Tension Headaches

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.

  1. Migraine Headaches

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.  

Symptoms

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.

  1.  Tension Headaches
  2.  Migraine Headaches
  • mild to moderate pain in the head
  • muscle ache
  • headache since waking up
  • constant fatigue
  • trouble with concentration
  • accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision or change in personality
  • temporarily losing sense of coordination or balance
  • temporarily losing their ability to express themselves
  • prone to motion sickness
  • sensitivity to lights, sounds and bright visuals

Causes

  1. Tension Headaches

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.

  1. Migraine

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.

When to see a doctor

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:

  • Persistent vomiting
  • Worsening headache pain
  • More frequent headaches
  • Drastic change in behavior or personality
  • Awakening in the middle of the night by headaches

Headache Preventions and Management

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.

  • Keep a headache journal for your child that documents triggers and symptoms
  • Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep. Rest is extremely important to a child’s overall well being.
  • While it can be a challenge in these busy times, attempt to maintain a consistent routine in terms of mealtimes, sleep, and exercise.
  • Engage your child in relaxation activities to reduce stress.
  • When your child begins to suffer from headaches, have them rest in a cool and quiet location or apply cool cloth to the child’s head.
  • Do not make your child miss too much school. If your child frequently misses school because of headaches, look for signs of possible stress at school.
  • If your child’s headaches are a reoccuring issue, be in communication with the school or teacher regarding symptoms, triggers and basic treatments.
  • Encourage a nutritious diet and also pay attention to food triggers.
  • During headaches periods, it is best to limit physical exertion which could make the headache worsen.
  • Drinking up to 6 or 8 glasses of water a day will ensure that dehydration is not a cause of the headaches.

References.

  1. Raising Children: The Australian Parenting Website – Helping Children Enjoy Sports More Available from: http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/helping_children_enjoy_sport.html. Accessed on April 22, 2015.
  2. National Health Service – Children’s Headaches. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/headaches/Pages/Headachesinchildren.aspx. Accessed on April 22, 2015.
  3. National Headache Foundation – Children’s Headache Disorders. Available from: http://www.headaches.org/content/childrens-headache-disorders . Accessed on April 22, 2015.
  4. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne – Headaches in Children and Teenagers. Available from: http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Headaches_in_children_and_teenagers/.  Accessed on April 22, 2015.

Photo Credit: archibald jude via Compfight cc

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Navarat Rungteeranon, M.D. Summary: Pediatrics Pediatrics