Things To Know If Your Child Has Headaches

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Child Headaches

By the time they reach high school, most young people have experienced some type of headache. Fortunately, less than 5% of headaches are the result of serious disease or organic problems, such as a tumor, abscess or head trauma.

The more parents and teachers know about children and headaches - their triggers, symptoms, prevention, and treatments - the easier it will be to identify them and help kids live with them for a full and rewarding life. Here are some tips and advice for dealing with your child's headache.

Legitimate Biological Disease
While a kid suffering from migraines has most likely inherited a predisposition to them, these headaches can result from stress, food or environmental triggers. A child's or adolescent's tension-type headaches are real responses (not excuses) to personal, family or school-related stress or challenges. Whether it's a pop math quiz, an anticipated grammar test, or the school play, each child responds differently. It is important for parents to recognize their child's headaches as a legitimate biological disease which is treatable, and to seek diagnosis and a treatment plan to make your child's head pain and associated symptoms better.

Finding headache care
Some children, once diagnosed, will find immediate relief from prescribed treatment. With other kids, doctors might have to try a few approaches before achieving success. And, there are a few young people who will find some relief but not a totally successful treatment. Generally, however, if the symptoms persist despite the best efforts of your family physician or pediatrician, then it's time to ask your doctor for a referral to a pediatric neurologist or headache specialist.

Tension-type headaches are almost always caused by emotional stress, and migraines can be aggravated by stress. So, it is critical to understand what causes your child's stress, as well as your own, and how you both can manage it. Counseling can be very helpful in identifying stress and in teaching a child how to more effectively deal with headaches in daily life.

If counseling is possible, you may wish to try it. If your healthcare plan or HMO does not cover it, a note from your child's pediatrician may overcome this obstacle. Your kids cannot avoid stress, because it's everywhere. But if parents help their children deal with both good and bad stress, they will be helping them learn necessary life-management skills.


It is important to help a child identify the sources of school stress such as problems learning math, science or another language, or an upcoming test. Recognition of this stress by a parent or teacher, coupled with understanding and encouragement, can help a young person better deal with his headaches.

Headache at home
When your child develops a headache or feels one coming on, suggest a dimly lit room, offer medication, and an ice pack if it helps. Be responsive and sensitive to the headache without pampering, and treat this child the same as you treat your other children.

School and communication
It is important for parents of younger children, and for adolescents themselves, to discuss the headaches with school health professionals and teachers. Your child's doctor can write a letter explaining the importance of treatment when the headache starts. Give the school nurse the medications and instructions for use. Explain to each teacher, every semester, that the moment a child feels the warning signs of a headache, he should be allowed to leave class, go to the nurse's office for medication, and rest there until the symptoms have decreased.

Headache at school
Young children experiencing or recovering from a migraine might not want to play with other kids and may find the activity of school recess periods difficult. Offer an alternative, such as lying down in the nurse's room or, if the child feels like it, reading a book. Or, if a migraine diminishes a young person's appetite, then instead of lunchtime in the cafeteria, ask if he would prefer to rest and relax instead of eating. It is important to acknowledge and appropriately respond to the challenges that a child may experience during his headache, but it is also important for the child not to be separated or feel isolated from other students.

Allow immediate treatment
Children with migraines eventually learn the warning signs. These sometimes include dizziness, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. The actual headache may be accompanied by vomiting. If a child feels that he has to take his medication, then encourage his teacher to allow a visit to the nurse's office to do this because taking medication as soon as the first signs of a headache appear is important. Waiting until class is over could put a young person in a more vulnerable situation, and force him to miss more of school than necessary.

Missing school days
There will be times when a headache will cause a child to be late to school, to leave school early, or to miss a day of school, but your kid should not miss more than five days per semester as a result of headaches. If a child misses more than five days, then further evaluation may be necessary. Discourage "school refusal," and home schooling should not be considered a solution for headaches.

Healthy, moderate lifestyle
Successful control and management of headaches includes balanced, nutritious meals (especially breakfast), regular sleep patterns and a full night's sleep, physical exercise, activities, and avoiding food or environmental triggers. During the course of a headache, however, kids should minimize physical activity because it may aggravate the headache.

While a child with headaches should remain active, refrain from over-commitment or too many activities. If a particular activity triggers a headache, do not allow it if possible, and, if it cannot be avoided, discuss how it might become more manageable. Your pediatrician, psychologist, teachers or other kids might have suggestions for alternate activities.