By: Mary B. Hammock, MSN, CPNP
Many parents worry that headaches in children are signs of brain tumors or other serious medical conditions. However, headaches in children are common and frequently are attributed to acute illness and infection, including sinus, throat, and ear infections, and often accompany fever. Children also suffer from headaches attributed to high levels of stress or anxiety, just like their parents. Good health is the best method of prevention.
Migraines In Children
It is estimated that 25% of adult migraine suffers started with migraines before their fifth birthday. It is also known that children exhibiting car or motion sickness, with a family history of migraines, will often develop migraine headaches later. Adult’s migraines usually start in the early morning, whereas a child’s may develop in late afternoon. In general, a child’s migraine occurs on both sides of the head instead of just one side in adults. Also, an adult’s migraine usually lasts at least four hours but a child’s may last less than four hours. In general, migraines can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, sensitivity to light and sound, throbbing or pounding pain and pain that worsens with exertion. Even small children may get migraines, resulting in unexplained crying or holding their head.
Tension Headaches In Children
Tension headaches are the most common headache in children, not associated with illness. Emotional factors are the most common cause of tension headaches. Stressful situations at school, competition, family or friend friction or excessive demands placed by the child or the parent can induce the diffuse pain described as a tight band squeezing the head. Tension headaches can last from 30 minutes to several days. These headaches are usually not associated with nausea or vomiting and do not worsen with exertion. Younger children may withdraw from play or want to sleep more.
Cluster Headaches In Children
Cluster headaches are not common in children under 12 years old. These headaches can occur in five or more episodes, ranging from one headache every other day to many headaches in a day. Sharp, stabbing pain on one side of the head lasting fifteen minutes to three hours is the hallmark of cluster headaches. These headaches are often accompanied by tearing, nasal congestion, restlessness or agitation.
Most headaches aren’t serious but certain symptoms warrant further investigation. Any headache that wakes one from sleep, change’s one’s personality, includes vomiting more than once, follows a head injury, or is accompanied by fever and neck stiffness require immediate medical attention.
More typical headaches require individualized treatment, depending on the age and weight of the child and the frequency and severity of the pain. Reassuring the child that the headaches are the result of no serious abnormality generally reduces the number and severity of attacks. Regular sleep and eating habits do a lot to stave off headaches. Be sure your child stays well hydrated, especially in hot and humid weather. Caffeine and simple sugar intake should be restricted and monitor the time spent in front of a screen, whether it be a TV, computer or tablet.
It is important to identify triggers of headaches and record them in a headache diary. The diary should include what took place or what was eaten at the time of the headache and what made the headache better or worse. Avoiding triggers is an important step in successfully treating headaches. Identifying stressors that trigger headaches and teaching coping skills are successful ways to treat tension headaches. OTC ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be used to provide relief and should be taken at the first sign of a headache. If headaches come monthly, are concerning or particularly distressing, or cause missed school days, seek guidance from your healthcare provider to determine if preventative therapy or counseling is necessary.
Like so many other conditions, practicing healthy behaviors, reducing stress and avoiding triggers are the best prevention for headaches. Healthy Steps Pediatrics is helping to grow healthy children one step at a time. If your child suffers with headaches that need further evaluation, call 678-384-3480.