Knowing the pediatric headache “red flags” can help you determine whether your child’s headaches are due to a minor problem, such as one of the typical juvenile illnesses, a slight knock on the head, lack of sleep, inadequate dietary intake, or stress.
Knowing how to recognize headache “red flags” in children can also help you decide whether your child’s discomfort may be caused by something more serious or even suggest that you should take them to the emergency room.
In addition to discussing the more prevalent causes of headaches in children, how they’re diagnosed, and how to treat and avoid them, this article will also discuss the warning signs of pediatric headaches.
✅ Periodic headaches are not a cause for concern.
✅ However, if your child has recurring headaches or exhibits any “red flags” related to head pain, you should think about scheduling a physician appointment or seeking more urgent treatment as necessary.
✅ In order to give your child more headache-free days, your doctor can assist uncover any underlying medical conditions and suggest potential drugs, therapies, or lifestyle modifications.
What should I watch out for if my child is experiencing severe headaches?
The good news first: The majority of headaches, or primary headaches, are not usually significant. However, headaches might occasionally indicate a different problem that demands rapid attention. Because they are caused by other conditions and their impact on the head, these headaches are known as secondary headaches.
If any of the following hold true, get in touch with your pediatrician:
- Your youngster recently fell or received a head injury. This could indicate that they have a concussion or another injury that is putting pressure on their head and needs to be examined.
- Your youngster has a fever or a stiff neck. Meningitis, an inflammation of certain membranes encasing the brain and spinal cord, may be indicated by these symptoms.
- The pain in your youngster isn’t going away with over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers. You should take your child to the emergency hospital or at the very least, call the pediatrician if they experience really acute or sudden discomfort.
- Your youngster is unruly or drowsy. The same is true if your youngster is acting strangely in addition to having a headache.
- Your youngster is throwing up but shows no other symptoms of illness. Vomiting could indicate elevated intracranial pressure. Numerous factors, including trauma, arachnoid cysts, hydrocephalus, and tumors, can contribute to this.
- Your youngster was awakened from sleep by a headache. If the pain awakens your child from sleep, it can be quite strong and out of the ordinary for typical headaches.
- When your child wakes up in the morning, they have a headache. This could also indicate elevated intracranial pressure.
- Lying down makes your child’s agony worse. Another potential indicator of elevated intracranial pressure is pressure or pain in the head when lying down. Headaches in your youngster occur more frequently than twice per week. You should also bring up frequent headaches or headaches that consistently interfere with play, learning, or other parts of life with your pediatrician.
Likewise, pay attention to your parents’ gut instincts. It’s wise to have your child’s headaches evaluated if they seem to require more care.
What are the normal signs of headaches in children?
By observing your child’s symptoms, you may be able to identify the sort of headache your child is having. Consider writing down the symptoms and indications of your child’s recurrent headaches so you can address them with a doctor.
The duration of migraine headache pain might range from 4 to 72 hours overall. Before a migraine headache begins, some kids may get something called an aura. Auras might manifest as flashing lights, zigzag patterns, or momentary blindness. Other signs and symptoms include throbbing or pulsing pain on one side of the head.
- Light sensitivity
- noise sensitivity
It’s significant to mention that children may experience various forms of migraine headaches. Some, like migraines in the abdomen, may not even cause head pain. Your youngster may instead express discomfort with their stomach or a lack of appetite.
Another type of migraine that primarily impacts teenage females around their periods is the basilar-type migraine. Vision alterations, balance issues, lightheadedness, slurred speech, and tinnitus are among the symptoms—not necessarily head pain.
Headaches with tension
Generally speaking, tension headache discomfort is mild to moderate. Neither hormones nor genetics play a role in these headaches. Instead, they usually start when people are stressed or anxious. When the stress or anxiety subsides, they can disappear. It has several characteristics, such as a band-like headache, discomfort on both sides of the head (bilaterally), and tense muscles in the face, neck, jaw, or scalp. other reasons could be caused by clenching the jaw, skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, or another stressor that may involve sensitivity to light event noise. It may not worsen with activity or there is no nausea or vomiting
Cluster headaches are excruciatingly painful. After just five to ten minutes, they frequently feel their worst and continue for around three hours. Children are less likely than adults to experience cluster headaches. Although they often only affect people between the ages of 20 and 50, children can still be impacted.
Discomfort in specific head regions and pain that recurs for weeks at a time at the same time of day or night (also known as “clusters”) are typical symptoms. Sweating, swollen or red eyes, nose, or both on the affected side of the head. Dizziness, headache pain on one side, and sensitivity to light or noise.
How are children’s headaches diagnosed?
It may not be necessary to diagnose occasional headaches. You should let your pediatrician know if your kid experiences more than two headaches per week, severe headaches, or headaches that interfere with daily activities.
The following questions are likely to be asked by your child’s doctor: What symptoms your child has been displaying; how frequently your child exhibits symptoms; what might be precipitating the symptoms; questions about your child’s medical history; inquiries about any family history of headaches or similar conditions.
The doctor will examine your child physically to check for any indications of an underlying disease, injury, or infection. If nothing unusual is found, your child could require more testing depending on any particular symptoms or worries.
For instance, tests on the blood and urine may be used to spot infections. Imaging methods that aid in visualizing the brain’s anatomy include CT scans and MRIs.
What causes headaches in kids?
It might surprise you to learn that headaches are frequent in children. As children enter their teenage years, they seem to happen more frequently.
There are numerous causes of headaches in children, including, depression, anxiety, stress, a lack of sleep, hunger, thirst, tense neck and head muscles, hormone changes, menstrual cycle, genetic predisposition, certain drugs, or overuse of them.
Secondary headaches may be brought on by conditions such as: sickness (cold, flu, etc.); infection (ear infection, meningitis, etc.). Head injury, neck injury, arachnoid cysts, hydrocephalus, seizure disorders, and possible tumors.
Make sure to be aware of any signs and “red flags” connected to your child’s headaches.
How do I handle my Child’s headache?
Your options for treating your child’s headaches are numerous. To determine which choice is best for your particular child and type of headache, it is advisable to examine your options with your pediatrician.
There are numerous headache treatments that are only licensed for use in adults. However, some might be OK for teenagers. Never give your children headache medicine without first consulting your pediatrician.
Your child’s headache should typically be treated with over-the-counter pain medicines including acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil).
A doctor might prescribe ketorolac to your child if they don’t respond to Tylenol or Advil. In emergency rooms, this is occasionally used as a treatment for children’s migraines. Although it is typically administered intravenously, it can also be taken as a tablet at home.
Triptans can ease migraine or cluster headaches by constricting enlarged blood vessels in the brain. Few of them are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but they are not frequently prescribed for youngsters (FDA). As follows:
- Ritaglitran (Maxalt), for ages 6 to 17.
- Almotriptan, for people aged 12 and older
- Sumatriptan/naproxen, for those over the age of 12,
- zolmitriptan nasal spray (Zomig), for people 12 and older
A pediatrician might prescribe an antiemetic if your child also has nausea or vomiting in addition to their headache. The two medications that are most frequently used in emergency rooms to treat nausea and vomiting are metoclopramide and prochlorperazine.
Children who suffer from headaches frequently, especially migraine headaches, may need to take medicine to stop them. Several possibilities are:
Although the beta-blocker propranolol is helpful, children who have asthma, diabetes, or depression shouldn’t take it.
- According to a 2013 study, the anti-seizure medication topiramate was discovered to be equally efficient as propranolol in avoiding migraine headaches.
- An antihistamine that can be administered before the night is cyproheptadine.
- Amitriptyline, an antidepressant, can help prevent migraine and tension headaches despite the FDA not having approved it for the treatment of migraine. Doctors may advise taking a single dose before bed.
Intriguingly, a study conducted in a study done in 2020 found that migraine drugs had no more anti-migraine impact than a placebo in treating migraines in children and adolescents.
If your child frequently experiences headaches, you might also want to discuss with your doctor how frequently using drugs may actually make headaches worse.
According to the same 2020 study, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be especially successful in treating migraine in both children and adolescents. Children who experience headaches brought on by stiff neck muscles or other related problems may benefit from physical treatment.
Other beneficial treatments can include deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and acupuncture; biofeedback therapy; massage therapy; and acupuncture.
A home remedy
Try these remedies if your child already has a headache: letting them relax in a dimly lit room; using a cool cloth or ice pack to their forehead; and encouraging them to drink lots of water.
By making lifestyle adjustments and using other natural therapies, you may be able to reduce the frequency of headaches. These could be especially beneficial if your child suffers from tension headaches, which are brought on by physical or mental stress.
For instance: • Headaches brought on by dehydration may be relieved by consuming the recommended 7 to 10 cups of water per day for females or 7 to 14 cups of water per day for boys. Getting the required amount of sleep each night (eight to ten hours for teens and nine to twelve for children in elementary school) may also help reduce headaches.
Keeping away from recognized migraine triggers may prevent migraine symptoms. Try maintaining a diary of various foods, activities, or lifestyle choices that may be contributing in order to identify triggers. Children who suffer from migraines may also benefit from eating specific functional foods.
The most popular dietary supplements are:
- Coenzyme Q10,
- and others
However, a greater analysis of these supplements in children is required. Before giving your child a supplement, always check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for them.
Which Children are more susceptible to headaches?
According to recent research, all age groups of children suffer headaches in roughly 3 out of 5 cases. However, prepubescent children are less prone to get headaches than teenagers.
Additionally, adolescents frequently experience acute headaches. Compared to 27% of adolescents aged 16 to 18, less than 5% of youngsters aged 4 to 6 report having regular or severe headaches.
Boys experienced headaches more frequently than girls did in prepubescent children, according to experts. But once puberty began, headaches were more frequent in girls.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke claims that according to a reliable source, youngsters may be more susceptible to developing migraine if their family has a history of the condition. Additionally, they seem to impact more women than men. Additionally, children experience specific mood disorders, such as sadness, anxiety, bipolar disorder, sleep issues, or epilepsy.
Males experience cluster headaches more frequently than females do. They could also be linked to a family history of cluster headaches or previous head trauma.
According to a 2018 study headaches are uncommon in children who are preschool age (5 years or less). If your very young child is experiencing headaches, consult your child’s pediatrician.
How can I prevent headaches in my child?
You might not be able to completely prevent your youngster from experiencing headaches. Maintaining healthy habits (eating well, getting adequate sleep, and drinking lots of water) may help prevent headaches of this nature. Similarly to this, recognizing and avoiding migraine triggers may reduce some of their activity.
Otherwise, it’s critical to collaborate with your child’s doctor to identify the primary factor causing the headaches and anything that might be contributing to them. From there, you can create a tailored plan that incorporates: lifestyle modifications; stress management; preventative drugs; rescue medications; and additional therapies.
Do headaches in kids get better?
Headaches in children may or may not go away. It will depend on the nature, origin, and other elements, such as genetics, of the headache. For instance, tension headaches usually begin in the adolescent years and reach their peak in the late 30s. Contrarily, migraine can have hormonal or hereditary causes.
Therefore, if there is a family history of migraines or at times of hormonal transition, they may continue (like the menstrual cycle). However, headaches brought on by stress, worry, or changes during adolescence may go away. As your child gets older, they could be better able to control their migraines if you can pinpoint their headache triggers.