Kids headaches: When to worry

Young girl with headache

The lights are too bright, and everyone is talking way too loud. Just above your right eye your forehead feels like it has something sharp embedded in it.

Headaches are not uncommon in adults, with triggers ranging from tension to too much caffeine. While our children may not seem to have the same triggers, they are not immune to headaches.

“Children may experience similar headaches as adults, but they can be more challenging for youth because symptoms can vary significantly over the span of childhood,” says Eric Hastriter, MD, a Banner Children’s pediatric headache neurologist at Cardon Children’s Medical Center.

He adds that figuring out what triggered the headache is the first step in providing your child with the care they need.

Triggers for kids headaches

  • Not getting regular sleep
  • Skipping meals
  • Lack of exercise
  • Inadequate water intake
  • Caffeine use
  • Stress
  • Eye strain and poor posture from excessive exposure to electronics, such as computers, TVs, phones, tablets and video games
  • Certain medications
  • Hormonal changes
  • Environmental issues
  • Illnesses like the common cold, sore throat, and urinary tract or ear infections.

Tension headaches

  • A response to emotional and physical stress.
  • The pain is mild to moderate on both sides, with a feeling of pressure or tightening
  • Lasts 30 minutes to a week.

Migraine headaches

  • A genetically-inherited headache
  • Moderate to severe in intensity, and causes throbbing
  • Can last from one to 72 hours
  • May be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound, and may worsen with movement
  • Children often experience dizziness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating during the event

Treatment

  • Rest in a cool, dark room
  • Use a cold compress
  • Take deep, relaxing breaths
  • You can offer an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but not more than two times a week, as this can also cause headache.

Dr. Hastriter notes that you can help prevent future bouts by making sure your child is well hydrated, avoids caffeine, eats regular meals, exercises, sleeps regularly and reducing their stress.

“If your child has frequent, unexplained headaches or the pain is significant, call your pediatrician for further evaluation.”

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