Headaches in children

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Headaches in children are frequent and require proper attention. They affect all children and not just those who suffer from poor health, contrary to popular perception. According to one study, 10% of children between age 5 to 15 have migraine, and about 1% have chronic tension headache. Headaches in children are a cause of concern.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • Headaches in children can be age specific or the beginning of a lifelong syndrome.
  • They may be an indication of serious health problems like brain tumour and meningitis.
  • Even the harmless ones result in missing school days and lead to severe interruption in learning.
  • Most children can not express in words what they are feeling and might feel different from their peer group because of this malady.
  • Poor vision can cause a headache from eye strain. See your doctor for a vision screening test.
  • If the headache is chronic, it might lead to developmental regression, depression, other behavioural problems, and can severely affect a child’s daily day activities and future life.
  • The most common causes of headaches are usually viruses, as part of a cold or the flu.

All about headache in children

Headache has been classified in different ways over the years, but in children what one usually encounters migraine-like headache, or a chronic tension-type headache. It is important to look out for the signs of headache as the child might not be aware that it is something that needs to be expressed or is serious enough to warrant a visit to the doctor.

Signs of headache

  • They might be experiencing nausea, vomiting or a general feeling of discomfort.
  • The child might sit quietly in a chair, bed or sofa and avoid watching television.
  • Light and noise may bother them.
  • They may seem lethargic or fatigued
  • They look dull and do not want to exert themselves.
  • They may fall asleep at unusual times.


Some of the many potential headache triggers include:

  • Certain medications (headaches are a potential side effect of some)
  • Too little sleep or sudden changes in sleep patterns
  • Skipping meals
  • Becoming dehydrated
  • Being under a lot of stress
  • Having a minor head injury
  • Using the computer or watching TV for a long time
  • Menstruation
  • Experiencing changes in hormone levels
  • Taking a long trip in a car or bus
  • Listening to really loud music
  • Smoking
  • Smelling strong odors such as perfume, smoke, fumes, or a new car or carpet
  • Drinking or eating too much caffeine (in soft drinks, coffee, tea, and chocolate)
  • Consuming certain foods (such as alcohol, cheese, pizza, chocolate, ice cream, fatty or fried food, lunchmeats, hot dogs, yogurt, aspartame, or anything with the seasoning MSG)
  • In some cases, headaches are caused by certain infections, such as:

But most headaches aren't signs that something more is wrong. Only 10% of headaches are caused by other medical conditions, such as infections or other serious illnesses.


Taking good care of your child can decrease their frequency and severity of his/her headaches:

  • Drink plenty of fluid (4-8 glasses per day)
  • Caffeine should be avoided
  • Sports drinks may help during a headache as well as during exercise by keeping sugar and sodium levels normal.
  • Regular and sufficient sleep
  • Fatigue and over exertion can trigger headaches
  • Most children and adolescents need to sleep 8 to 10 hours each night and keep a regular sleep schedule to help prevent headaches
  • Eat balanced meals at regular times
  • Skipping meals can cause low blood sugar, hypoglycemia, which can trigger a headache
  • Avoid foods that trigger headaches in your child
  • Minimize stress and over commitments
  • Avoid overcrowded schedules or stressful and potentially upsetting situations.

What can I do?

Looking for signs of headache will help you and your child realize that the disability associated with headache is real and should not be dismissed.

Call a doctor if

  • Headaches that wake a child from sleep.
  • Early morning vomiting without nausea (upset stomach).
  • Worsening or more frequent headaches.
  • Personality changes.
  • Complaints that "this is the worst headache I've ever had!"
  • The headache is different than previous headaches.
  • Headaches with fever or a stiff neck.
  • Headaches that follow an injury.


  • Headaches can be a common problem in children
  • Somewhere between 4% and 10% of children have migraine headaches.
  • Many adults with headaches started having their headaches as children, with 20% reporting the onset before age 10.
  • Most headaches in children are benign - meaning they are not symptoms of some serious disorder or disease.
  • Migraine headaches often run in families, so information on other family member's headaches are important.
  • Headache may interfere with participation in activities and school and can be a significant health problem.


  • Headaches
  • Clinical Approach to Headache in Children and Preventive Therapy of Migraine
  • Headache in children
  • Hadaches in children
  • Headaches in children