How to Deal with Headaches in Children

Child with headache

There are many reasons why your child can suffer from headaches. From stress to poor eyesight to lack of sleep, headaches come in many forms. Learning the cause and behaviour of the headache will help you and your child combat it and prevent it from occurring.

Causes of Headaches in Kids

Even though we do not usually associate headaches with children, a surprising number of children suffer from them. There are many reasons for a headache in a child.

  1. Illness

One of the most common causes of a headache is an illness like a cold, fever, flu, or even sinus infections. This type of headache will resolve itself once the underlying illness or infection is treated. In this scenario, a headache is a symptom of the dehydration caused by the illness.

2. Head Trauma

Bumps to the head while playing or otherwise can also cause a headache. While most bumps do not give cause for worry, it is best that you get medical attention if you feel that your child has had a very hard knock. If the headache continues to worsen over time, then you must get medical help.

3. Emotional Stress

Stress and anxiety can be a leading cause for headaches in children. With the stress of school and after school activities, some children might now know how to deal with all the pressure and this may manifest as headaches. One of the symptoms of depression is headaches.

4. Certain Foods and Drinks

Certain additives in foods can cause headaches. Cured meats like turkey bacon or ham contain nitrates which when consumed in excess quantities can cause headaches. Another additive usually seen in food is MSG is known to cause headaches. Caffeinated drinks like sodas, coffee, and tea can also result in headaches.

5. Genetics

Some types of headaches such as migraines tend to be genetic and will affect children if you or any other family member suffers from the same.

7. Brain Issues

Sometimes, headaches can be a symptom of an underlying issue with the brain. It can be indicative of bleeding, abscess, or tumour. However, these conditions are accompanied by other symptoms as well such as blurry vision.

Child with headache

Should You Worry If Your Child Has a Headache?

In most cases, the headache is due to simple reasons of dehydration or stress, and once the child takes time to rest and recuperate, the headache will also disappear. However, in some scenarios, it is best to seek medical advice.

  • Frequent headaches of more than one a month.
  • Waking up with a headache even after getting adequate sleep.
  • Stubborn persistent pain.
  • Headaches that worsen with time.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Other symptoms like nausea, dizziness, and neck pain accompany the headache.

Types of Headaches in Kids

Headaches can be broadly classified into four categories. They each occur differently and for different reasons and hence, the treatment for them also varies. A child might have more than one type of headache and identifying the type of headache is half the battle won.

  1. Migraine Headaches

Migraines are caused by triggers like stress, lack of sleep, or even certain food items. The most common types of migraines that occur in children are paroxysmal vertigo and cyclic vomiting. The former is associated with vertigo where there is a sudden sensation of spinning that goes away in a few minutes. The latter type of a migraine is associated with episodes of vomiting. In some cases, the vomiting may not even be accompanied by a headache.

Symptoms

  • Throbbing or pulsating headache on one or both sides of the head.
  • The headache will worsen with exertion.
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and sounds.
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach pain

2. Tension Headaches

This type of a headache is one of the most common in children. It is usually caused by some sort of emotional upheaval or any physical stress. Identifying the cause of the stress be it studies or anything else will help your child resolve it. You can have an open discussion with your child about why she is getting stressed and what are the steps that she and your family can take in order to lessen the pressure.

Symptoms

  • The tightness of the muscles in the head or neck.
  • Mild to a moderate headache that does not pulse on one or both sides of the head.
  • The pain does not worsen with physical activity.
  • This type of a headache is not accompanied by nausea or vomiting.

3. Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are usually observed in children over ten years old. This type of a headache begins as a series of headaches usually behind an eye and can last for over a week to a month.

Symptoms

  • Cluster headaches occur with at least five episodes.
  • The headache could occur from once every alternate day to eight times in a single day.
  • Sharp, stabbing pain behind one eye or to the side that lasts less than three hours.
  • A headache is accompanied by a runny nose, congestion, and swelling of the eyelid.

4. Chronic Daily Headache

Your child’s doctor will term the headache as Chronic Daily Headache or CDH if the headache, whether migraine or tension type, occurs for more than 15 days a month. CDH could be caused by a number of reasons that include prolonged use of medications, infection, or minor head injury.

Diagnosis

It is best that you consult with your child’s paediatrician if the headaches are occurring frequently. The doctor will ask for an in-depth record of your child’s medical history. Keep a note of when your child experiences the headaches and share this information with the doctor. Keep note of what your child eats and how much sleep she gets every time she gets a headache. The doctor will also ask questions in order to be able to diagnose the type of headache. These will include:

  • When does a headache occur?
  • How long does a headache last?
  • Which part of the head hurts?
  • Have there been any changes in sleeping or eating patterns?
  • Does the child have sleeping issues?
  • Does a change in position change the nature of the headache?
  • Has there been any event in the past that has caused emotional stress?
  • Has there been any trauma to the head or neck?

Based on the answers to these questions, the doctor will be able to pinpoint what might be the cause and nature of the headache. The doctor might even ask for tests to rule out underlying medical conditions. These tests include MRI and CT scan.

Treatment for Child Headache

There are a range of treatments that the doctor can recommend. The treatment will be based on your child’s age, medical history, allergies to drugs, and of course, the type of headache.

  1. Rest

One of the first things the doctor will recommend is that your child gets enough rest. This treatment is recommended if the headache is caused by stress or strain.

2. Pain Medication

The doctor might recommend that your child use pain medication in moderation in order to mitigate the pain. The medications should be used only as per the doctor’s instruction and under observation

3. Relaxation Therapy

If your child is suffering from anxiety or depression due to emotional and psychological stress, then your doctor will recommend relaxation techniques in order to relieve the stress of which headaches are a common symptom. These techniques include mediation, yoga, and breathing exercises. It is best that you recommend a child therapist for a recovery plan that will help resolve these issues.

4. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

The child therapist might use CBT in order to give your child the tools to deal with the stresses of everyday life. CBT must be done by a trained professional and you must help your child practice the techniques at home.

5. Biofeedback Training

One of the techniques used to combat the symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety is to control the physical aspects of the same. Here, it includes the breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Once the body is trained to let go of the physical stresses, the mental stress is easier to handle.

6. Alternative Therapies

You could also explore non-conventional therapies like acupressure and massages in order to combat the headaches.

7. Dietary Supplements

Some studies have shown that dietary supplements of certain vitamins and even minerals like Magnesium can reduce the number of headaches in children.

How to Prevent Headaches in Kids

Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent headaches in children and following these simple techniques will alleviate the frequency of headaches. Once the triggers of the headache are identified, then it is just a matter of keeping your child away from these triggers.

  • A cool compress will usually reduce the pain of a tension headache.
  • Lack of sleep is one of the most common causes of headache in children. Practice good sleeping habits such as going to bed on time.
  • Loud noises are well known to cause migraines and must be avoided when possible.
  • Practising breathing exercises when your child is sure that she is about to encounter a stressful environment such as an examination will help keep the headache at bay.
  • Most people do not realize that headaches can be caused by something as simple as not drinking enough water. Talk to your child’s doctor and find out how much water is recommended daily. Ensure that your child eats fresh fruits on a daily basis.
  • Fresh food should be the main part of your child’s diet and should include fresh fruits and vegetables. Do not use too much oil and maintain a balanced diet.

Child drinking water

Home Remedies for Children Headaches

There are certain home remedies you could try in order to prevent and alleviate any occurrence of headaches in your child.

  • You can give your child a supplement of feverfew which is shown to have reduced migraine headaches by 25%.
  • You can also use peppermint oil to soothe nerves in order to relieve tension headaches. Mix a couple of drops of this essential oil in almond oil and massage the head.
  • Your child could also try aromatherapy with steam. Mix either a few drops of lavender oil or eucalyptus oil to relieve sinus headaches.
  • Cinnamon is also known to reduce headaches. Mix a pinch of the freshly grated spice in warm milk and have your child drink this every night before bed.
  • Clove has shown to reduce pain and can be chewed on during any time of the day.

Self Help Tips for Children

One of the things that can help your child deal with headaches is teaching your child different methods to help themselves in order to deal with or avoid headaches.

  • Lying down in a dark room will help alleviate the pain and reduce the duration of the headache.
  • Putting a cold compress or even a moist, cool cloth across the forehead can reduce the pain.
  • Learning breathing exercises and practising them through the day.
  • Sleeping off the headache can be the best solution.
  • Eating and drinking something natural can also help alleviate headaches.

When to Consult a Doctor?

You should consult a doctor if the following symptoms manifest along with the headache.

  • Vomiting
  • Decreased alertness
  • Interrupted sleep due to the headache
  • Changes in vision
  • Rashes
  • Tingling sensations
  • Seizures
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Lack of coordination
  • If the headache is caused by a head trauma
  • Difficulty in standing
  • Difficulty in walking
  • Fever
  • Change in personality

FAQs

1. If My Child Gets a Headache Very Often, What to Do?

If your child is having headaches often, then you must keep a headache diary where you record the occurrence of the headache. Make a note of the amount of sleep your child has gotten on that day along with his diet and activities. Note down if he has any stressful activity coming up such as exams or competitions. This will allow you to establish a pattern on the days that the headache occurs and you can figure out the triggers for the same.

2. Can Children Outgrow Headaches?

There is a large possibility that children can outgrow the occurrence of headaches. However, this is dependent on the type of headache. It has been studies that boys will mostly outgrow migraines by the time they are preteens. However, girls might continue having headaches later in life due to hormonal changes.

There are many ways in which you can help your child combat the occurrence of headaches. Simple home remedies and self-help can alleviate the problem to a large extent. However, if you are worried about the frequency, then it is better that you seek medical help, as a headache could be a symptom of a larger underlying medical problem.

Also Read: Knee Pain in Children