Most people think of headaches as an adult problem, but kids can get them too. Often, childhood headaches are just temporary symptoms of a cold, flu, or an infection of the sinuses, eyes, or ears. But like adults, some children can get tension headaches, migraines, or another recurring type of head pain. If your child has mild headaches every once in a while but seems otherwise healthy, there’s nothing to worry about. But severe, frequent headaches obviously demand attention.
Types of headaches to watch out for
This common type of headache causes a dull ache on one side of the head. As with adults, tension headaches in kids can be brought on by stress, anxiety, or depression. They may flare up on school days and disappear over the weekend or during vacation.
Although they usually don’t strike before children reach school, migraines can show up at any age. It’s estimated that about one school-age child out of 20 has had at least one migraine, a severe, pounding headache that lasts from two hours to two or three days and is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and a desire to seek relief through sleep.
Often, the headaches stop before children reach puberty. Young children with migraines might have pain on both sides of their head, while older children usually have it on one side. Like adults, kids with migraines may see auras (distorted visions) before the headache starts.
These headaches are relatively common in teenagers, especially boys. As the name suggests, the pain comes in bunches. Each attack starts around the eye and then spreads outwards. The eye may become swollen and watery, and the face will probably turn red.
A child with meningitis will have many other symptoms beyond an excruciating headache. Inflammation of the brain covering can also cause high fever, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and extreme stiffness in the neck (sometimes accompanied by an inability to touch the chin to the chest). Other signs include listlessness and irritability. If you think your child might have meningitis, call 911 or get medical care immediately.
What can you do about your child’s headaches?
You might be able to prevent some headaches in the first place by encouraging your child to get regular exercise and drink plenty of fluids. If your child suffers from tension headaches or migraines, you should find out if something is upsetting them. He or she may need extra help coping with their problems, perhaps including a visit with a counselor.
Children with migraines also need to learn how to identify and avoid the triggers that can set off their headaches. Different people can have different triggers, but possible culprits include